JEFFERSON CITY— More than 10,000 people have accepted the Buckle Up Phone Down Challenge, according to the Missouri Department of Transportation and Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety. The milestone announcement follows the Missouri Highway Safety and Traffic Blueprint Conference held Sept. 9 to 11 in Columbia.

The Buckle Up-Phone Down campaign was created in 2017 to address the two most impactful actions a driver can take to prevent crashes—or survive if one occurs.

“Distracted driving is a major cause of crashes, not only in Missouri but in the entire United States,” said Jon Nelson, chair of the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety. “Drivers using cellphones in Missouri were involved in 2,580 crashes in 2017 alone.”

In 2018, there were 391 known unbelted fatalities in Missouri traffic crashes.

“More than 1,000 other individuals were involved in these same crashes and survived at a much higher rate — 77% compared to 38% for those who were unbuckled,” Nelson said.

While it is impossible to know for sure if a seat belt would have saved the lives of every unbuckled individual lost in these crashes, if all 391 people had been buckled and survived at the same rate, 244 of them would still be alive today, Nelson said.

Missouri currently has no primary safety belt law, meaning law enforcement cannot ticket an individual for being unbuckled unless first stopped for another traffic infraction. And even then, the fine is only $10. In addition, cellphone use while driving is restricted only to those 21 or younger and only for texting.

The Buckle Up Phone Down Challenge’s goal is to have individuals think about safety for themselves and everyone in their vehicles, as well as getting private industry to openly support employee safety, either through internal safety campaigns or changing policy to ban cellphone use in company vehicles and make seat belts mandatory. The campaign features YouTube videos and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts to get the message out. A dedicated website features both individual citizens and employees of participating businesses giving the “thumbs up-thumbs down” sign to show their support of the effort.

MoDOT’s goal is to have 20,000 pledges by 2020, said Nicole Hood, state highway safety and traffic engineer. The pledge can be made at

The third annual Buckle Up Phone Down day will be held Oct. 29 at the Stotler Lounge at the University of Missouri-Columbia campus. The event includes a roundtable discussion on distracted driving with a panel of experts to be moderated by the National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Bruce Landsberg. Other activities are planned throughout the state.