Missouri Battles Evolving Problem: Distracted Driving

7 years 8 months 1 week ago Friday, November 05 2010 Nov 5, 2010 Friday, November 05, 2010 9:34:05 PM CDT November 05, 2010 in News
COLUMBIA - While speeding and alcohol cause many of the crashes drivers encounter on Missouri’s roads, believe it or not, it is not the leading contributor of traffic accidents in the state.

According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol that dangerous designation goes to inattention – something better known as distracted driving.

In 2009, distracted driving caused 10,606 injuries and 167 deaths on Missouri’s roads and since 2004 it has also caused the most crashes.

A MOTHER’S STORY

These are figures Columbia resident Lori Popejoy is all too familiar with.

Not a day goes by when she doesn’t think of what distracted driving took away from her.

It was only eight years ago when Popejoy had everything she wanted: a loving husband, a young daughter and a son named, Adam.

“He loved his friends," she said. "He was a very social animal."

But one misstep changed the Popejoy household forever.

Shortly after the Christmas holiday, Adam took the car outwith two of his friends.

To this day, Lori Popejoy is not sure what her son was doing in those final moments; he may have been listening to music or talking to his passengers, but she knows he was not paying attention to the road.

In a moment of inattention, a semi-truck then hit Adam’s car.

He died at the young age of 16.

“They were doing something they shouldn't have been doing while they were driving,” Popejoy said.

MISSOURI’S EVOLVING PROBLEM

Stories like the Popejoys have driven the Missouri State Highway Patrol to renew its fight against distracted driving.

In July, the department kicked off a statewide anti-driving while texting campaign with the help of Conway Freight and NASCAR’s Roush Fenway Racing.

“We’re trying to urge people to drive attentively and to make sure that they are not being distracted in a car by texting,” said Missouri State Highway Patrol Lt. John Hotz.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol said during the first half of 2010, cell phone usage resulted in 791 accidents across the states.

Hotz said that statistic is indicative of a problem that is evolving.

“It just used to be people talking with other passengers inthe car or listening to the radio or eating or drinking or reading a map,” Hotz said.  “Now we see them using different types of technology, whether it be cell phones, text messaging, or global positioning type devices.”

However, there is good news. 

This year, traffic-related fatalities have decreased by seven percent across the state.

“In Missouri, we’ve seen a steady decline in [overall]traffic death totals over the last five years, that number is continuing to goin the right direction,” Hotz said.

TEXTING WHILE DRIVING: A SOCIAL PROBLEM?

While the state is pleased with that statistic, it is no surprise that it is not satisfied.

Missouri still wants to cut down on fatalities by stopping distracted driving.

The key to doing that may lay in firmly labeling distracted driving a social problem.

Sociologist William Force defines a social problem as a condition a significant portion of the population views as troubling in comparison to the normal framework of the world.

He said the public as a whole has yet to view things like texting while driving in the same light as it does drunk driving.

 “It hasn’t had the time or attention paid to it that is necessary for it to be a widely held view about reality,” Force said. “So unlike drunk driving which very few people would argue should be legal, texting while driving is still relatively new, the statistics are still coming together

 <iframesrc="http://player.vimeo.com/video/15549598?byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=ffffff"width="400" height="300"frameborder="0"></iframe>

But, Force said he believes distracted driving will eventually be considered a legitimate problem amongst Americans.

He said the issue has the benefit of “piggybacking” social problems that have come before it, like drunk driving, and as a result will be easier for society to accept.

Lori Popejoy said she hopes that is the case.  She said her pain was immense. 

For now, however, she is trying to move on.

“We now have a grandson and its time to embrace life and not spend so much time regretting it,” Popejoy said

She said if you are interested in spreading awareness about distracted driving, you can find more information about the issue through the these two groups: Think First and Focus Driven.

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