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MoDOT reminds drivers to stay off phones ahead of I-70 expansion


As the weather warms up, highway projects start around the state and the Missouri Department of Transportation and AAA Missouri reminded drivers Tuesday to stay off their phones when behind the wheel.

Construction starts Wednesday in Columbia on the Interstate 70 expansion. The $2.8 billion project will eventually add an extra lane to I-70 across the entire state, starting with improvements to the Highway 63/I-70 interchange. There will be lane closures starting Wednesday because of the work on I-70. Northbound and southbound 63 will be reduced to one lane between Broadway and I-70 until April 22.

Last year, 35 Missourians died because of work zone crashes, according to MoDOT. That's the highest number ever. MoDOT vehicles were hit 63 times last year, up from 27 in 2022, according to MoDOT.

"It's hard to believe that people don't see a big yellow truck with flashing lights, but they don't. And when they're driving distracted, people hit those vehicles, and our employees that are in those trucks get hit," said Ed Hassinger, MoDOT deputy director and chief engineer.

Hassinger said 800 to 1,000 construction projects will be going on across the state this summer.

AAA Missouri hosted its Distracted Driving Awareness Day on Tuesday at the Missouri Capitol. The event is always hosted during April because it's Distracted Driving Awareness Month, but this year it also falls during Workzone Awareness Week.

In past years, AAA Missouri used this advocacy day to push for a hands-free driving law, but the Siddens-Benning Hands-Free law went into effect last year. Now, advocates are focused on spreading awareness of the law.

Although it's been nearly a year since the law went into effect, more than half of Missourians don't know about it, according to AAA Missouri. Research from AAA Missouri shows that distracted driving has dropped nearly 8% since the hands-free law was implemented last year.

Under this law, you cannot hold your phone in your hand while driving. You can use hands-free devices like Apple Play. The first violation is a fine of up to $150 and you can face criminal charges for any crashes caused by distracted driving.

The law is named for the late husband of Adrienne Siddens, who was killed by a distracted driver in Columbia.

"I have a lot more to share," Siddens said. "Still 50% more people I could tell that need to know about this. It does kind of feel like we crossed the finish line though. So that's exciting that we have something we can now build on."

Although the law took effect last year, police and troopers won't start ticketing drivers for distracted driving until Jan. 1, 2025.

"I'm kind of excited for people to start grumbling about getting tickets for this to spawn a more positive conversation about it," Siddens said.

Article Topic Follows: Missouri Politics

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Hannah Falcon

Hannah joined the ABC 17 News Team from Houston, Texas, in June 2021. She graduated from Texas A&M University. She was editor of her school newspaper and interned with KPRC in Houston. Hannah also spent a semester in Washington, D.C., and loves political reporting.


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