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Distracted driving kills, cell phones worst cause

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April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month and anyone who has texted while driving can attest to what a dangerous practice that can be. 

“We've all experienced passing other motorists where they never look up,” said Commander Joshua Howell of the Sedalia Police Department. “Or we've all been that person to somebody else if we text and drive. Just be aware at 55 miles per hour the time it takes to check a text message you will cover about the distance of a football field — imagine driving that long with your eyes closed.” 

According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), a recent report stated there were approximately 3,200 fatal automobile crashes attributed to distracted driving. This equates to 9% of overall traffic fatalities in the U.S. The NAIC also found that insurance premiums have increased by 16% over the past 10 years due to distracted driving.

Sonny Broyles owns Preuitt Insurance Services in downtown Sedalia and has noticed this alarming trend. 

“I think we're seeing claims are a lot to do with distracted driving,” said Broyles. “People are texting while driving and ramming into the back of vehicles that they're not aware of because their faces are planted in the phone. Your eyes should be on the road.”

Sedalia police are keenly aware of the attraction to cell phones but warn of devastating consequences. 

“The key thing to remember is it will never be worth it to you if you end up killing or injuring somebody checking a text message,” said Howell. “That's never going to seem worth it to you when you realize the impact you had on the life of somebody else and their family and loved ones just to know what that text message said a few seconds or minutes earlier.”

Missouri is one of the few states that doesn’t have statewide distracted driving laws that apply to all drivers. But Revised Statutes of Missouri section 304.820 clearly states, “no person twenty-one years of age or younger operating a moving motor vehicle upon the highways of this state shall, by means of a hand-held electronic wireless communications device, send, read, or write a text message or electronic message.” 

Not only is it dangerous, but an $85 fine may be assessed and two points will be added to your driving record, as well as possible damages awarded after an accident. 

“Sometimes the patrolman or the police can check phones to see if they'd been on the phone,” said Broyles. “We’ve had that happen. Unless they have a Bluetooth where it's automatically going into your radio I would be hesitant to answer it. Especially not texting while driving. With distracted driving you can cause an accident and it could ding your driving record and cause you to have points and your insurance rates can go up because of that, any types of claims on your policy.”

Cell phones, while the largest cause of distracted driving, are not the only dangerous distraction.

“For parents, children can be a distraction,” said Howell. “For young people, their passengers often cause distractions, even things on the side of the vehicle can be a distraction. We see an increase in accidents on sunny days on Friday because people aren't thinking about where they're going, they’re thinking about what they're going to do for the weekend.”

“It is a tragedy so many people died each year due to distracted driving,” said Chlora Lindley-Myers, Director of the Missouri Department of Commerce and Insurance. “These losses of life could be avoided by taking some simple steps to help drivers stay focused on the road.”

Here are some helpful tips to prevent distracted driving before you turn the ignition key as suggested by NAIC:

  • Start sober. Don’t get behind the wheel while impaired, keeping in mind exhaustion, medicine, alcohol, or recreational drugs.
  • Plan your route. Set your navigational technology before you depart and don’t touch it.
  • Pick your tunes. Choose your music, podcast, station, and set a volume that allows you to focus on driving.
  • Buckle up. Make sure you and everyone in the vehicle (even pets) are restrained in the car.

While on the roadways, follow these tips:

  • Obey speed limits. It is better to arrive a little late and stay alive.
  • Ask passengers to help you stay focused. Passengers (especially teens) should speak up if the driver gets distracted.
  • Be a role model. Parents, your children will learn from the example you set while driving.

For more information on DCI programs or helpful tips, visit dci.mo.gov.

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