State leaders to gather for 'Buckle Up Phone Down' Day

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COLUMBIA - Jennifer Smith lost her mother in a distracted driving car crash in 2008.

Smith said she wanted to bring awareness to the issue, so she started a national organization called

"Everyone knows someone. Everyone has a story," Smith said. "Everyone can share how someone they know is impacted."

Smith is one of 27 panelists who will speak at a roundtable event at MU for Missouri's second annual Buckle Up Phone Down Day on Tuesday. 

"The spirit of that is to get Missourians, all drivers, to take responsibility and to do their part in making our highways safer," Jon Nelson, assistant to the State Highway Safety and Traffic Engineer for MoDOT, said.

"It's such an epidemic on the road, which is why everyone has to do their part," Smith said. 

In 2018, Governor Mike Parson deemed October 29th as the statewide Buckle Up Phone Down Day.

Missouri lost 79 lives to distracted driving crashes last year, according to MoDOT.

Nelson said it's one of the fastest-growing reasons for crash-related fatalities. He said cell-phone related crashes in Missouri have gone up 35 percent since 2014.

The City of Columbia implemented plan Vision Zero in 2016. The goal is to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries in Columbia by 2030.

"It's going to take everyone's effort, including all members of the general public being committed to trying to do what we can to eliminate distractions," City Engineering and Operations Manager Richard Stone said. 

Missouri is one of two states that does not have a full ban on texting and driving.

"The roadway isn't ours to ourselves. We share that roadway with other people," Nelson said. "We also share in that responsibility to keep each other safe."

The event starts at 9 a.m. in Stotler Lounge in MU's Memorial Union.