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Give a Gift with Teeth—Don't Use Cell Phones and Drive

It is time for the State of Missouri to join much of the civilized world and ban using cell phones while driving.

On July 15, 2008 Mark Tiburzi, a district sales manager for Famous Footwear shoe stores had just left the Chesterfield store and was headed to the Brentwood store. He would not be taking Highway 40 to Brentwood Boulevard because Highway 40 had been closed for six months from Ballas Road to I-170 while it was completely rebuilt.

The closure caused a regular backup of traffic trying to exit onto southbound I-270. Tiburzi was struck in that traffic backup with about 50 other drivers.

Also on Highway 40 that day was Jeffrey Knight who was driving a tractor trailer with a load of scrap metal. Knight had just driven through Chesterfield and entered Town and Country. When driving under the Mason Road overpass, instead of watching the road Knight reached for a cell phone to make a call. By the time he had grabbed the phone and opened it he had reached the end of the backup and promptly drove on top of more than 20 stopped cars at highway speeds.

The sun was shining at Knight’s back. Visibility was perfect, but he never saw a backup of over 50 cars, 20 of them he literally ran over. Killed instantly was Charles Cason driving an Audi. Mark Tiburzi was hit next in his Toyota Camry. A group of Amish from northern Missouri had hired a van owner to drive them to a funeral in Memphis. The van was hit and two died at the scene and several others were disabled for the rest of their lives.

After the accident, Tiburzi was a quadriplegic with severe brain injuries. He never communicated after the accident. He died on August 28, 2011.

Currently, nine states ban the use of cell phones while driving, including California and New York. Much of the rest of the world has laws against cell phone use while driving.

In 2008, researchers at the University of Utah estimated distracted drivers using cell phones were responsible for 200 deaths and over 236,000 accidents a year, a number which I think is low.

Utah studies showed that talking on cell phones while driving slowed reaction times to the same level as drunk drivers. Similar data from research at the University of North Carolina, Harvard and McGill Universities support the findings from Utah.

Here in Missouri, driver distraction was the cause of 46,973 accidents in 2007, 43,270 accidents in 2008 and 42,553 accidents. During that three year period distracted driving accidents in Missouri resulted in approximately 49,000 injuries.

On July 15, 2008 I was working as a traffic-reporting editor and had a camera shot of the Highway 40 backup at I-270 on a monitor directly above my desk. I looked up and saw the accident scene just as Knight’s truck finally came to a stop.

At the time, I was also an alderman in Town and Country, where the accident had occurred. It was clear that there was no interest in Jefferson City from state legislators to make our roads safer and ban the use of cell phones while driving. I tried to do it by one city at a time.

A month after this horrific accident, I drafted a bill to ban cell phone use in Town and Country. One alderwoman said she was against the bill, but would be in favor of one to ban phone use while driving in school zones. The police chief said he was against the bill, but would favor a law against truck drivers using cell phones. The bill died due to a lack of a second.

However, someone paid close attention to this attempt to regulate deadly behavior on the highways.

In 2009, the Missouri legislature passed a bill making it illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to text and drive. This is crazy!

If you are going to allow some part of the population to text and drive it should be those under 25. People wearing trifocals and with arthritic thumbs should be the ones banned from texting and driving.

Hidden in the bill banning those under 21 from texting and driving was a sentence that also banned city and county governments from passing laws that banned cell phone use while driving.

The state legislators refused to act and make our roads safer and then passed a law that would not allow city or county lawmakers to do what they refused to.

Do you think lobbyists had anything to do with this?

Living in West County, I continue to be amazed by moms driving high-dollar large-size SUVs, talking on a phone, making left turns at major intersections with one hand and no turn signals.

I also see plenty of men driving $65,000 cars making cell phone calls. Is the price of the car going to save them from wrecking it?

What really gets me is when I see someone leave their house talking on a cell phone, get behind the wheel of their car and drive off while still talking. Couldn’t that person finish the conservation before driving?

Christmas time is when many of us do something different, like take time to write a check to the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, or drop off a case of dog food at the Humane Society shelter in Chesterfield Valley or on Macklin Avenue. 

If you are one of those people who like to talk on the phone and drive, maybe you could give it up—consider it a Christmas present to the Tiburzi family, other motorists on the road, yourself and your family.

Don't drive and use a phone. Turn the phone off when you drive, so you won’t even be tempted. That's the spirit of the holidays.

Tom December 06, 2011 at 01:26 AM
Texting and driving is an important part of life that won't be going away....an idiot law or otherwise. Next should we remove radios, CD players, or all of the 'push-button' features from cars? Is it illegal to put on makeup and drive? Drink coffee and drive? Or how about all of the people who truly break the law with iphone headphones while driving? Get a life and get off the topic. Smart phones are here to stay.
John Hoffmann December 06, 2011 at 06:05 AM
Tom...Excellent idea "get a life." Perhaps you could get a life for Lydia Miller, Alvin Mast, Charles Cason and and Mark Tiburzi...because of some dope using a cell phone took theirs. In fact there are a number states that have laws against putting on makeup and other clearly dangerous activities while you drive. The idiot law about using a cell phone while driving you refer to is on the books being enforced in most of world.
Sensible? I think so December 14, 2011 at 01:36 AM
Thank you, John, for a thoughtful and well-written article. And very timely with the release today of the NTSB recommendation to ban all cellphone use while driving. Texting and driving are incompatible and dangerous. There is NO EXCUSE for texting while driving. Get off the road to a safe parking place and text all you want. As far as banning cellphone use, esp. hands free while driving, I expect that would be difficult to enforce. Though personally I don't have a problem with it: I do NOT use my cellphone at all while driving. I either give it to a passenger or turn it off. I think that we should emphasize responsibility. If you have an accident while driving and using your cell phone, you should "pay", whatever that means.

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