Mayors unite to push for more driver safety

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JEFFERSON CITY – Many people have probably seen the signs sitting on the side of the highway, flashing one simple message: "buckle up, phone down." That's a part of the campaign Mayors United for Progress is running with MoDOT.

The group met in Jefferson City Wednesday to pressure lawmakers to write a safety law requiring seatbelt usage and banning all cell phone use while driving

Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin, Kansas City Mayor Sly James, Springfield Mayor Ken McClure and several other mayors spoke about what they've done so far in their own cities and what they want the general assembly to do for the state.

"I fully support a bill that will make it absolutely mandatory, subject to a fine, for not buckling up your seatbelt and for texting on the phone while you're driving or in the vehicle at all," James said. 

The mayors invited a young man saved by a seatbelt to speak at the conference. Jaylen Butner of Boonville was the passenger in a car that slammed head-on into a truck. He says his seatbelt kept him from getting more hurt than he was. He also advocates for a cell phone ban. 

"I honestly think it's most important to pay attention to the road and what's around you – your surroundings, your environment, everything you're involved in – within the moment," Butner said. "With this 'buckle up, phone down' thing, I think it's best for young teenagers since teenagers are attached to their phones a lot."

MoDOT reports Missouri ranks 41 out of 50 in terms of seatbelt usage, and is only one of 16 states with no primary seatbelt law. On top of that, Missouri is one of three states without a statewide ban on cell phone use.

The general assembly introduced thirteen primary seatbelt bills in the general assembly in the past, but none have passed.

Some opponents of bills like this see a seatbelt-wearing requirement as a restriction of freedom. Others see it as pointless because if people don't wear their seatbelts now, they still won't wear them if there is a stronger law in place.

The Mayors United for Progress just has one request for Missouri lawmakers.

"We just want to see this enacted, it's pretty simple," Tergin said. "A primary safety belt law and then an all-driver texting ban. Currently, we have a secondary safety law in Missouri, we would like to see that primary and then for the texting ban, it's currently only implemented for drivers under 21 and it should be all drivers, all ages, period." 

"This isn't brain surgery, you don't need a degree from Stanford to do what could be done in a one or two page bill with no fiscal note that's going to help save lives and doesn't cost any money," James said. "We just need them to do it."