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Special Report: Distracted Driving - KOAM TV 7

Special Report: Distracted Driving

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Distracted driving kills 8 people and injures more than 1 thousand people every day in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Authorities say distracted driving is a growing problem, especially with advances in technology.
It is the leading cause of all traffic crashes in the state of Missouri, accounting for about 25 percent of accidents. There are plenty of distractions while on the road, but the most dangerous is texting.
In 2013, we spoke to a mother who lost her daughter in a texting and driving accident. In the past few years, she has continued to take her devastating loss and use it to educate others on the dangers of distraction.
It's been 9 years since merry dye lost her daughter.
“She was a character. In drama, in choir,” says Dye.
Mariah West lost control of her car on I-49 answering a text message.
“When you find out it’s over something as meaningless as texting and driving to lose your child over it makes you kind of angry especially when it’s something that you had those conversations with,” says Dye.
She used her grief to educate others, creating the Mariah West Educational Foundation. She's shared her daughter's story with more than 15 thousand people but says there’s still more to be done.
“It’s a lot along the same path as MADD had and they're still fighting but they got it to the level where it was truly considered a problem and it’s socially unacceptable to drink and drive. We have to get to that same point with texting and driving and all the lovely technology its wonderful I’m not anti-technology but it has to be done at the right time and the right place and while you're driving is not that time,” says Dye.
Missouri is 1 of 4 states without a ban on texting and driving for all drivers, it's only illegal for somebody 21 or younger to text while driving.
“More than likely if someone is texting and driving they're going to violate a traffic law. They're going to cross over the center line, they're going to cross over the fog line, and they’re going to aggressively brake because they didn't see the car ahead of them stopping. All the traffic laws are still in play,” says Sergeant John Lueckenhoff with the Missouri Highway Patrol.
A person texting is 23 times more likely to get into an accident.
Merry Dye will continue educating on the dangers of distraction. She says her daughter always had something to share. Even after her death, she shares with Mariah’s Act.
“A federal law that helps the National Highway and Transportation Administration, help to continue that, keep funding from the federal government for that, as well as giving states a stipend to adopt distracted driving programs for educational purposes,” says Dye.
A legacy Merry Dye hopes will keep other families from experiencing such a loss.
Do texting and driving laws really make the streets safer?

Timothy Summers spends a lot of time on the road, working as a truck driver.
“It doesn't matter what state we're in we see it every day all day," says Summers, a Neosho resident.
He waits in the DMV to get his motorcycle license, concerned that those waiting to take the driver’s test may not understand the impact distractions can have on others.
“If someone’s texting and driving behind me they're not going to see me, I’m little, I mean even compared to a regular Honda Civic [my motorcycle is] tiny, and in the blink of an eye I’m gone," says Summers.
Missouri may not ban texting and driving for all drivers, but crossing into Kansas, those laws change. It’s illegal for any driver to text anywhere on the road, regardless of if the car is moving. But Kansas Highway Patrol troopers say they've had a hard time enforcing the laws.
“We have to be 100 percent sure that they are texting while driving because people who are just using their cell phones, dialing a number or doing other things with their cell phone is not against the law,” says Trooper Rick Wingate with the Kansas Highway Patrol.
Wingate says the law's limitations have resulted in a low number of citations issued. He thinks broader distracted driving laws could help.

“I think that would help us to be able to enforce a wider range of laws or distractions so that maybe we could help stop some of the distracted driving and maybe lower our fatality rates,” says Wingate.
Last year in Kansas there were 70 fatal accidents due to distracted driving, compared to 103 in Missouri. So far this year, there have been 52 fatal accidents in Kansas and 51 in Missouri.
If the laws were adopted in the Show Me State, would they make a difference?
“I think if those laws were passed then I think it would encourage people who are law abiding to not text and drive so in that respect it would make people safer. It has to be something that’s important to society as a whole and I’m not sure what level of support that kind of legislation would have at this point," says Captain Ryan West with the Joplin Police Department.
Some will say the laws don't stop people from picking up their phone while in the front seat.
“It’s not just my generation of aged people, it’s everyone from new drivers to people with 30 or 40 years of driving experience. It’s not just 1 state, it’s every state it doesn't matter if they got the laws or not, you see it everywhere,” says Summers.
A task that will kill an average of 3 thousand people each year. Studies show that texting causes a driver to lose 37 percent of the brain function they need to drive.
For this story we only compared laws in Kansas and Missouri but Oklahoma also has a ban on texting and driving for all drivers.

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