COLUMBIA — The Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety saw a 35 percent decrease in roadway fatalities in Missouri since 2005 — down to 821 deaths in 2010 from 1,257 in 2005.
This number, which is the lowest since 1949, passed the coalition's goal to decrease the annual number of traffic deaths to 850 or fewer by 2012.
The coalition celebrated reaching that goal Tuesday morning at Mizzou Arena.
Alcohol-related crashes accounted for 32 percent of the 821 killed, said Missouri State Highway Patrol Col. Ronald Replogle.
The patrol conducted 62 sobriety checkpoints and 95 DWI saturations last year, checked more than 41,981 vehicles and arrested 561 people for driving while intoxicated. It plans to conduct 65 checkpoints in 2011.
In April 2010, the Highway Patrol released a new highway safety video called "Permanent," shown to driver’s education classes and church groups. It was created to teach people — particularly young people — about the dangers of drinking and driving, texting while driving and distracted driving.
Of those killed last year, 68 percent were not wearing seatbelts, Replogle said. The 2010 average seatbelt compliance rate in Missouri was 76 percent, compared with the 2009 national average of 84 percent.
“Seatbelts are basically simple physics,” said James Kessel, professor of clinical surgery and medical director for trauma services at University Hospital. “It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realize that if you are loose in that vehicle, bouncing around or ejected, you’re going to have a much higher rate of injury.”
Law enforcement also started an anti-texting campaign in 2010. Replogle said a driver who is texting while driving is 23 times more likely to be involved in an accident. In July, the Highway Patrol did a public service announcement with NASCAR as part of its campaign to try to bring more attention to the issue.
Replogle said the Highway Patrol also will support a bill before the legislature this session that would make texting while driving illegal for all drivers in Missouri, not just for those under the age of 21.
“It seems kind of silly to me,” Replogle said. “If you’re 19 or 99, and you’re texting while you’re driving, you are a danger out there on the roadway."
The Highway Patrol has also fully marked patrol cars. Replogle said it believes higher visibility of troopers out on the highways is a deterrent in and of itself.
"Achieving a goal two years early is always an important thing," he said. "But we still had 821 fatalities on Missouri's roadways in 2010, so that means our work's not done."
Kevin Keith, Missouri Department of Transportation director, closed the celebration by saying the best way to increase chances to "arrive alive" is to wear seatbelts, don't drink and drive, pay attention and slow down.
"And I think we can cut this number in half," he said.