MU College of Engineering partners with driving safety campaign

The “Buckle Up Phone Down” campaign is designed to spread awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and not wearing seat belts.

MU’s College of Engineering entered a partnership with the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety’s “Buckle Up Phone Down” campaign.

The campaign is designed to help spread awareness of the dangers of distracted driving and the importance of using seat belts, as well as to reduce the overall number of vehicular accidents per year in Missouri.

“We really find the people of MoDOT [Missouri Department of Transportation] to be really open to working with us,” said Charles Nemmers, director of the MU Transportation Infrastructure Center. “We’re just very pleased to be a part of this connection. We look at it as one state agency helping another state agency.”

Nemmers is not the only MU faculty member who is pleased with the partnership.

“Joining this coalition means that first of all, we agree that this is an issue that unfortunately is affecting Missouri lives; it’s taking away Missouri lives,” engineering professor Carlos Sun said. “[Partnering] just means that we acknowledge these problems, that we are supportive of efforts in increasing and improving safety and letting people be aware of these issues and encourage our students and faculty to buckle up and to not drive distracted.”

The organization focuses on community outreach to spread its message, often speaking to elementary, middle and high schools about the dangers of distracted driving.

Under Missouri law, drivers younger than 21 and all commercial drivers are prohibited from texting while driving. Despite the ban on texting and driving, reported car crashes involving cell phones rose 17 percent in 2015, according to the campaign website. One of the major goals of the Buckle Up Phone Down campaign is to get everyone regardless of age to take the pledge to not text and drive.

“One of the initiatives for this organization is to increase awareness of two issues, one being seat belt usage and the fact that we’re lagging behind horribly compared to other states — we’re at the bottom,” Sun said. “Also, the issue of texting while driving, which is a form of distracted driving. Unfortunately, [distracted driving] results in about 3,000 people being killed every year. Not all of that is because of texting and driving, but texting is a big part of that.”

People may not even realize they are engaging in dangerous driving habits, Sun said. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, a text takes an average of five seconds to type. At a speed of 55 miles per hour, that means a driver has just traveled the length of a football field without looking at the road.

Any activity a driver focuses on other than driving increases their risk of crashing, but texting while driving in particular increases one’s risk of crashing by 23 times, Sun said.

In addition to texting, the campaign stresses the dangers of several other distracted driving behaviors, such as neglecting seat belts.

“I’m particularly concerned about people not wearing their seat belts,” Nemmers said. “So when MoDOT came out with their initiative about wearing seat belts and putting cell phones down, I was a big fan of it.”

According to MoDOT, seven out of 10 people killed in Missouri car crashes are not wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident. Seat belts reduce the death rate in car crashes by 71 percent for infants and 54 percent for toddlers. Research done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated that all vehicle occupants are 45 percent more likely to survive a crash if they are properly buckled in.

People who want to help stop distracted driving in their communities are encouraged to make their voices heard by supporting local legislature regarding traffic safety, share the dangers of distracted driving on social media and set an example by taking the pledge to never text and drive. The pledge is available on Missouri Department of Transportation’s website.

Edited by Olivia Garrett | ogarrett@themaneater.com

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