Texting-and-driving survivor warns of distracted driving dangers

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LA PLATA — Driving home from work in August, Aaron Thomas decided to change the song on his phone. He looked down to change it, and suddenly he was being launched through the air. 

"It was so scary. I thought I was going to die. I was coughing up blood, my arm folded in half, my eyes were black for a couple weeks," Thomas said. 

The distracted driving he was doing is only illegal in Missouri for people under 21 years old. Missouri is one of just four states that doesn't ban texting and driving for everyone. 

"I think the fact it's only illegal for people under 21 to be texting and driving is ludicrous," Thomas said. 

Rep. Chuck Basye (R-Columbia), who admits to having driven distracted in the past, said texting and driving is troublesome, but it's hard to control what people do on the roads. 

"I hate to admit it, but I have done it [driven distracted] myself," Basye said. 

"It is a problem and I don't know if legislation is going to fix it. It's almost impossible to legislate human behavior," he said.

Studies on texting and driving in other states with laws against it are inconclusive. Most states haven't had a law in place long enough to come up with meaningful results studying the effects of texting-and-driving laws on traffic safety. 

Mandy Kliethermes, a grant manager at MoDOT, said these laws are more about teaching the next generation of drivers to not drive distracted. 

"If you know it's illegal, if your children know it's not safe, then maybe they would have better practices as they become drivers too," Kliethermes said. 

Thomas agrees that just making a law against texting and driving doesn't mean people are going to listen to it. 

"There are other laws that people, unfortunately, don't listen to, so it's going to take more than that to convince people not to use their phones while driving," Thomas said. 

He said he prefers to share his story in order to convince others not to drive distracted and face what he did. 

"A lot of my friends have told me specifically, 'I saw what happened and I'm too afraid to use my phone now', which is great in my opinion," Thomas said. 

According to an NHTSA study, about 660,000 drivers were using their phones at any given time during daylight hours in the United States in 2012. The number of smart phones between then and now has nearly doubled.

Some in the Missouri legislature have tried to get a law passed which would ban all drivers from texting and driving, but they have failed. Most recently, Senate Pro Tem Ron Richard (R-Joplin) attempted to get a texting-and-driving law passed. He will reach his term limit before the next legislative session begins, so someone else will have to pick up the baton. 

Basye said with hot-button issues like this, someone will generally keep trying to get some form of legislation passed. 

"When somebody introduces legislation, they'll say something like 'this is the same bill we've heard the last four sessions' or something like that, so if somebody is very passionate about an issue, it might have a better chance to get rolling," Basye said. 

Thomas doesn't want to wait until the next legislative session to convince people to stop driving distracted. He wants to keep pounding the point home to people, so what happened to him, happens to less people in the future. 

"It was all because I wanted to hit 'next' on a Spotify song. It's not worth it for anybody, for their families, or for anyone, it's hard to think about. I really just wish people wouldn't do it," Thomas said.