It’s not unusual to see people driving who are talking on the phone, texting, eating or putting on makeup.
Multiple studies show that such activity is as distracting as consuming alcohol and impedes a driver’s ability to drive safely. In 2010, 3,331 people were killed in distracted driving accidents.
Kim Schlau of Collinsville, Illinois is the Executive Director of the Jessica and Kelli Uhl Memorial Foundation. In November 2007, Illinois State Police trooper Matt Mitchell was using his cell phone, police computer and responding to a call. He was driving an estimated 126 miles per hour when he crashed into the car Jessica Uhl, 18, was driving. Jessica Uhl and her sister, Kelli, 13, died at the scene.
Schlau is now an advocate for safer police driving and distraction-free driving. She works with an organization called PursuitSafety, which works to protect innocent bystanders.
“There’s no reason to judge all police offices by the action of one officer,” said Schlau. “I have met hundreds of officers who are just fantastic and who do their job safely every day, and sadly, those are the ones you don’t hear about.”
A portion of Interstate 64 between Exit 19A at Illinois Route 158 and Exit 23 at Illinois Route 4 is now named the Jessica and Kelli Uhl Memorial Highway.
Schlau talked with St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh about her advocacy and training work with local police academies about the dangers of distracted driving.
Marsh also spoke with Officers Don Jacquin and Karl Streckfuss. Jacquin is an instructor at the St. Louis County and Municipal Police Academy. Streckfuss is a Highway Safety Unit Officer with the St. Louis County Police Department.
“The 30 to 40 minutes (Schlau) spends with our recruits or officers is really an eye-opener for veteran officers and rookie police officers and recruits – something that they’re not going to get from a PowerPoint presentation I give,” said Officer Jacquin. “This is heartfelt, this is emotional and this is real.”
Missouri lags behind other states when it comes to distracted driving laws. There is only a ban on texting for people under 21.
“It’s very difficult to enforce the texting law we have in place because we have to first identify that they are texting and not dialing a phone number, second we have to identify that they are under 21,” said Officer Streckfuss.
Major wireless phone companies have joined forces to help deal with the distracted driving issue. It’s called the “It Can Wait Campaign,” a national advertising effort which carries the message, “Texting while driving is a deadly habit that makes you 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash.”
John Sondag, President of AT&T Missouri joined Marsh to talk about the campaign.
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