Pacific officials say they will join the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) Buckle Up Phone Down campaign.
Officials called for an ordinance stipulating that Pacific employees use seat belts when they travel in a vehicle and refrain from using a handheld cellphone while driving when they are working for the city.
The call for an ordinance followed a presentation by Judy Wagner, MoDOT area engineer, on the campaign that coordinates with the Feb. 14 MoDOT Occupant Protection Seat Belt Enforcement Day.
Mayor Steve Myers said when he learned of the campaign he invited Wagner to send someone to a city board meeting to present the details of the campaign.
“Judy said she wanted to give the presentation,” he said.
Wagner noted that driver safety is a little out of her realm of engineering.
“This is the soft side of MoDOT,” she said. “I do this because a friend lost his daughter on Highway FF south of Eureka. He started his own program.”
The safety campaign for the Pacific area region, which covers 2,200 state miles in Franklin and Jefferson counties, starts with MoDOT personnel.
“MoDOT employees cannot speak on cellphones while driving,” Wagner said. “This is a big deal. I’m driving all the time. Our director cares about us and wants to make sure we get home at night. Now I’m the biggest supporter of the campaign. I’m more important than answering a call.”
Wagner said seat belts absolutely save lives. In 2018, almost 83 percent of vehicle occupants who were ejected from their vehicles were killed. Only two percent of crash victims who were buckled up were ejected.
Also in 2018, 77 percent of drivers and passengers killed in nighttime crashes were not buckled in their seat belts.
Cellphones also play a role in vehicle accidents. Missouri has a “No Texting” law for drivers 21 and under, but nothing for people over 21.
“Most crashes involve people over 22,” Wagner said. “We challenge all drivers to honor the ban. Don’t call or text on a phone while driving.
“We’re trying to engineer safer roads,” she added. “We need drivers to buckle up and put phones down. Only nine states rank lower than Missouri in safety belt crashes.”
Drivers should not only fasten their own seat belts, but also make sure that everybody else in their car is belted.
“I’m asking you all to take the pledge,” Wagner said. “Use Bluetooth or a wireless connection when using the cellphone in your car.”
It is a simple challenge. Proponents sign pledge cards that every time they are in a car they will buckle up and put their phones down.
“It will save your life,” said Wagner, who asked officials to pass a policy to say no Pacific employee will pick up a cellphone when in a car. The policy would not include police, but the city staff.
MoDOT recognizes all businesses, organizations and municipalities that take the pledge on its website.
“I will take the pledge and I challenge aldermen to do the same,” Myers said. “I also entertain a motion for the city to direct employees to buckle up and put the phone down when driving.”
Alderman Herb Adams made the motion for the city attorney to draft an ordinance that city of Pacific directs employees to buckle up and put their phone down while driving. They can talk on a phone in case of emergencies, and there is an exception for police officers who use their personal cellphones in certain surveillance situations.
The motion passed by a voice vote. The city attorney will prepare an ordinance to bring back to aldermen.
In a second action, after Wagner said Missouri officers can’t pull a driver over for a seat belt challenge, Alderman Andy Nemeth made a motion for the city attorney to research Pacific enacting a primary seat belt law so officers can stop someone if not wearing a seat belt.