COLUMBIA — The number of highway deaths in Missouri this year is on track to be the lowest since 1949.
As of Thursday, Missouri has had 744 fatal accidents on its highways so far this year. With only a week to go in 2011, it appears the total will fall well below 800. That would be the lowest number since 1949, when there were 799 highway fatalities in the state, Sally Oxenhandler, customer relations manager of Missouri Department of Transportation, said.
Here's a look at the number of traffic fatalities in Missouri since 2005:
2011 (as of Dec. 22): 744
Source: Missouri State Highway Patrol
Here's a look at numbers of fatalities in Boone County, including county roads, city streets and highways, since 2006:
Source: Deputy Nikki Antimi of the Boone County Sheriff's Department
So far, the number is 7 percent less than the 801 such accidents that occurred during the same period last year. Also, the fatality rate has been dropping for six consecutive years.
Oxenhandler said there are multiple reasons for the improved numbers. Among them are:
- Improved highway conditions, including median guard cables, wider and brighter stripes and better pavement.
- Increased law enforcement.
- Better automobile safety features, including air bags, head injury protection and antilock brake systems.
- Various educational agencies and programs that inform people of highway safety, such as "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" and "Click it or Ticket," an initiative that encourages people to wear seat belts. The Missouri Department of Transportation also has many programs and educational tools of safety driving practices.
“The leading cause of fatal traffic crashes on Missouri highways is distracted driving,” Oxenhandler said. “Texting, talking on the phone or turning on the radio could possibly trigger an accident.”
On Aug. 5, 2010, a fatal highway accident near Gray Summit was caused by the inattention of a 19-year-old pickup driver, who sent and received 11 text messages in 11 minutes before the crash, officials said.
Spurred by this, the National Transportation Safety Board on Dec. 13 recommended new restrictions on driver use of cellphones and other portable electronic devices by people behind the wheel.
Other causes of traffic fatalities include drinking, speeding and not wearing a seat belt.
Boone County has seen a similar drop in the numbers since 2006. Traffic deaths have dropped steadily each year, from 31 in 2006 down to eight this year. These numbers include crashes on county roadways, city streets and highways.