More Missouri drivers are buckling up but not putting phones down

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. Missouri and Montana are the only two states with no total ban on texting while driving.

Missouri does have a partial ban where it's against the law for drivers under the age of 21 to text while driving but the problem with people of all ages using their cellphones as they travel on our roadways is a cause for concern.

"We feel it is an epidemic, said Cindy Dunnaway, a district traffic engineer for MoDOT. "It is the number one issue that affects drivers."

Remember when distracted driving used to mean a baby crying in the backseat or dropping something on the floorboard?

Dunnaway says the cellphone distraction has become more prevalent during the last six years and pointed to a recent survey in which 9 out of 10 adults actually admitted they use a cellphone while driving.

Kind of makes you wonder if that one other person is lying.

"There's nothing more frustrating than being behind that person when the light goes from red to green and they take a good five seconds to get going because they aren't paying attention," Dunnaway said. "And then when they're next to you on the highway and you see them swerving into your lane or on the shoulder. I try to stay away from them as much as possible."

"I would equate the distracted driving as being no different than driving while intoxicated," said Carterville Police Chief Clint Worley. "Maybe worse."

Worley was among several law enforcement officers joining health care and education representatives on Wednesday at a meeting of the Southwest Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety, whose goal is to bring down driving fatalities across the state.

There have been 147 fatalities in the southwest region in 2019 compared to 162 in 2018, a drop of nine percent.

You've probably seen the campaign for the coalition's two main goals.

It's called "Buckle Up, Phone Down" and while almost 88 percent of Missouri drivers are putting on their seat belt, the phone part? Well, 9 out of 10 of us admit we don't.

Educational videos shown by the coalition depict a number of sobering messages such as a Missouri State Trooper reacting emotionally to the death of a teenage girl who crashed into a bridge while texting.

Messages like these put the danger into a startling perspective but Worley says the problem persists, especially among younger drivers who live on social media.

"It's the mental aspect of the phone," he said. "When they see that message from their social media there's something different in their mind that thinks they've got to see this. There's just been this change in our society."

While your chances of dying in a crash go from 1-in-1,200 to 1-in-29 if you're not wearing a safety belt, studies also show that on roads where there's a high level of cellphone use, there's also a higher level of fatal crashes.

"We feel there is a really strong correlation between cellphone usage and being in a fatality crash," Dunnaway said.