JCPD to combat poor driving habits

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JEFFERSON CITY - The Jefferson City Police Department will spend the rest of March working to increase awareness and cracking down on unsafe driving habits. One chief goal: reducing the number of teens driving without a seatbelt.

Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin has been a vocal advocate of the "Buckle Up, Phone Down" initiative being run by MoDOT.

Now, Jefferson City police are adding to the effort with a youth seat belt campaign, which will focus on the Graduated Driver’s License (GDL) law.

The GDL law requires teen drivers and all of their passengers to wear their seat belt for their driver’s license to be valid.

Currently, SaveMoLives, a roadway safety coalition that tracks Missouri traffic statistics, estimates that only 70 percent of Missouri teens wear their seatbelt. 

Nearly 80 percent of teens that died in traffic wrecks in 2016 were not wearing seatbelts, the website says.

Tergin believes this is one of the initiatives most deserving of the people's support.

"As a mayor, there is a lot of things that are done in the city that are very, very important, but this is life-saving," she said. "We don't really have the law as strong as it should be, so therefore we really can take it upon ourselves."

Tergin said she is so passionate about it because Missouri is one of three states without an all-driver texting ban. Currently only those under 21 are barred from texting and driving. She has challenged the state legislature to change those laws during her tenure as mayor.

Jefferson City traffic unit Sgt. Doug Ruediger said the campaign should be educational, and while it's targeted to the youth, it's really for everybody.

"I always like to say, 'be a hero, don't be a statistic,'" he said. "Maybe it's a tough thing for people to do, but really, you're saving someone's life."

Ruediger said, while impaired-driving is never acceptable, driving without a seatbelt or while texting can be just as dangerous.

"Focus on the road; put that phone down," Ruediger said.

He said the obvious message is "wear your seatbelt."

"I could talk endlessly about crashes that I've investigated where, if the driver or passengers just had their seat belt on, it would have been a completely different outcome.

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