Over the past five years, at least 382 individuals have been killed and 2,809 seriously injured in Missouri due to distracted driving. Missouri is one of only two states that does not have a law prohibiting all drivers from texting and driving. However, that changed on August 29, 2023, when a secondary texting and handheld cellphone law took effect for all drivers.
To help combat this problem and raise awareness of the dangers of driving distracted, Missouri has been promoting the statewide “Buckle Up Phone Down” (BUPD) campaign for the past five years. The BUPD campaign challenges individuals to put their cellphone done while driving and to always wear a seat belt.
The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) used grant funding from GHSA and General Motors to expand outreach of the BUPD program to three groups: elementary school students, high school students and employers. Increasing the state’s distracted driving campaign reach broadened the program’s audience and cultivated a culture of “phones down while driving” through a non-punitive, social norming approach.
MoDOT partner AAA provided direct support by contributing an additional $23,700: $2,700 for the elementary school initiative, $11,500 for the High School Showdown and $9,500 towards the Business Showdown. In addition, AAA provided in-kind support with staff resources, media and PR support, trophies, baseball tickets for elementary schools and other promotional items.
High School Showdown
The 2022 BUPD High School Showdown challenged students to make a pledge to not drive distracted and wear a seat belt each time they get in a car. Over 15,000 pledges were made by students, family and friends. Schools were grouped into six classes based on student population. Within each class, the school with the most pledges was declared the winner. A total of $15,500 was awarded to the six winning schools. The BUPD High School Showdown results were posted on the Showdown website.
Participating companies were required to register for the competition and adopt a cellphone policy. Cash prizes were awarded to the three companies with the highest percentage of employee participants: $7,500 for first place, $6,000 for second and $5,000 for third. Additionally, employees who completed the training video and took the pledge were entered in a drawing for a chance to win a $25 gift card. A total of 32 businesses and organizations participated, resulting in 1,239 BUPD pledges.
Smart Riders for Elementary Schools
The Smart Riders elementary school program was conducted in 216 classrooms, reaching more than 4,000 students. MoDOT provided participating schools with the children’s book, Sam’s Trip to the Beach, which addresses four key traffic safety areas: smart walking, distracted driving, booster and seat belt safety, and smart bicycling. Using the book, educators held conversations with their students about having the courage to speak up if they feel unsafe in a vehicle.
Ongoing Project Impact
All three initiatives provided the opportunity for Missouri to continue and expand conversations throughout the state about the dangers of distracted driving and the need for legislative change. During AAA’s Distracted Driving Awareness Day, the speakers called on the State Legislature to enact a hands-free law (the secondary law was approved in May 2023). This is the first step in creating a statewide culture where distracted driving is unacceptable.
A Hands-Free Coalition is being established to educate Missourians about the new law that took effect August 28, 2023. MoDOT issued a news release in preparation and is planning a campaign in October for Buckle Up Phone Down Day. Additionally, planning is underway for the next high school showdown.