Impaired driving: what inhibits the practice?
August 27, 2009
Effective August 28, 2009, new legislation signed by Gov. Jay Nixon and sponsored by Rep. Darrell Pollock (R-146) requires the Missouri Department of Transportation to establish a drunk driving risk reduction awareness program to be known as "David's Law." It includes a drunk driving victim memorial sign program.

HB 91 allows any person (or this person's sponsor) to apply to MoDOT to sponsor a drunk driving victim memorial sign in memory of an immediate family member who died as a result of a motor vehicle accident caused by a driver in violation of an alcohol-related traffic law. The caveat is that the department will charge the sponsoring party a fee to cover the cost in designing, constructing, erecting and maintaining the sign as well as the cost in administering the program. The fee that has been considered is $600 for the erection of each sign that will remain in place for 10 years with a subsequent renewal of 10 years after payment of further maintenance fees.

Blue signs, 30"x18", developed by the department will feature the words "Drunk Driving Victim!", the initials of the deceased victim, the month and year in which the victim was killed and the phrase, "Think About It!".

Each MoDOT district will gather the names of individuals who begin requesting the signs on August 28. These individuals will then be contacted by MoDOT once the rules and processes are in place.

According to Lori Marble, MoDOT community relations manager for district seven, no victim in a drunk-driving crash who causes the crash or was intoxicated will qualify for a memorial sign. "They are not eligible because they have committed a crime and though their loss of life is tragic, it does not meet the intent of the program," Marble said.

Because this law might lead to people erecting their own signs to avoid the costs, the law states that no person, other than a department employee or designee, may erect a drunk driving victim memorial sign. However, the language of the bill does not specifically address penalties for the wreaths and crosses that currently are erected at the scenes of traffic deaths.

In regard to the annual "You Drink & Drive. You Lose" campaign that kicked off August 19, 2009, Don Hillis, MoDOT director of system management said, "Drinking and then choosing to drive is a choice that tragically takes lives. The new signs offer a memorial to victim's families, while raising awareness of the dangers of impaired driving."

David's Law was named after David Poenicke, a victim of impaired driving. Gail Rehme, Poenicke's sister was the leading force in getting the legislation passed.

As required by law MoDOT has drafted a Code of State Regulations that is being reviewed by legal counsel before being presented to the Missouri State Highway Commission and published in the state register. A public comment period will take place before the rules and procedure for requesting a sign can be put into place.

The first probable date to complete the process for a sign request is March 1, 2010. Once a request is approved by the Missouri Department of Transportation, it will take between six to eight weeks to get the sign printed and installed.

According to a release by MoDOT, impaired driving continues to be a problem among motorists, many of whom don't realize how little of a substance it actually takes to affect driving skills and put themselves and others at risk. In 2008, the release reports, 262 people were killed, 1113 were seriously injured and 2,298 received minor injuries in crashes involving an impaired driver.

Missouri passes text messaging law

A new law (SB 130), sponsored by Senator Ryan McKenna (D-22), will prohibit drivers 21 years of age or younger from sending, reading or writing an electronic message while driving. Encouraged by the threat of losing federal highway funding, Missouri became the 23rd state to ban texting while driving, but is only one of nine to single out a particular age group. The fine for texting while driving under Missouri's new law, effective August 28, 2009, is $200.

According to Leanna Depue, director of highway safety of the Missouri Department of Transportation, "Young people will be forced to at least keep their fingers off their keyboards while they drive. The law is a small step toward counteracting some of the distracted driving that causes crashes in Missouri."

A release from MoDOT cites a recent study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute that concludes that distracted driving is the leading cause of traffic crashes in Missouri and nationwide, as much as 80 per cent of crashes involve some form of driver distraction. Studies also show that texting drivers spend up to 400 per cent more time with their eyes off of the road and even at high rates of speed.

Motorcycle safety advocate wants recognition of inattentive driving

Bruce Arnold, an advocate of biker's rights, recently sent a letter to Ray LaHood, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Claiming that "distracted driving is turning our nation's highways into killing corridors, Arnold wrote that "American motorists who engage in discretionary distractions must be held accountable for the harm they cause." He further stated that by "American motorists," he meant all who share our roads" and by "held accountable" he meant not just issuing a slap-on-the-wrist ticket.

Arnold defined "discretionary distractions" to mean "all activities in which a motorist might elect to engage that are known or might reasonably be expected to impair or detract from their ability to drive safely, including but not limited to cell phone conversations or texting, grooming or applying cosmetics and eating....."

Searching the Internet, Arnold found numerous references to studies indicating that driving while distracted is just as dangerous if not more than driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. Because of these findings, he questions why, since driving while distracted and driving while impaired are both discretionary activities with equivalent social costs, they do not carry equivalent legal penalties.

Cell phone driving laws and other non-regulated distractions

Missouri is not one of the states that bans handheld cell phone use. According to the website of the Governors Highway Safety Association, no state completely bans all types of cell phone use, including handheld and hands-free.

John M. Grohol, PSYD, in an article written in 2008 categorizes distractions while driving in four broad categories: Visual distractions (focusing on something other than the road), audible distractions (someone talking), physical distractions (like eating) and cognitive distractions (thinking about something other than driving).

Grohol suggests that the use of GPS navigation systems that allow for manipulation of the system while driving should be considered just as dangerous as cell phone use.

For more information about cell phone driving laws go here.

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Still texting and driving?staff371602009-08-27 15:42:46