Not since 1950 has Missouri seen so few people killed in highway crashes. For the fourth year in a row, Missouri has reduced its highway fatalities. Currently, the number stands at 871 in 2009 - almost 100 less than in 2008.
"Lives are being saved because the coalition partners are working together - and it's an exciting thing for Missouri," said Leanna Depue, chair for the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety's executive committee.
Overall, since 2005, traffic deaths decreased 31 percent, due to the combined efforts of highway safety advocates in the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety. The coalition credits a combination of law enforcement, educational efforts, emergency medical services and engineering enhancements as the successful formula for saving lives.
Since 1950, many things have changed and most differences show increases. For instance, Missouri's total population has increased by more than 51 percent, Missourians are driving five times more miles as they did in 1950, and the number of registered vehicles has quadrupled. Even the cost of a gallon of gas has gone from a mere 20 cents to an average of $2.73. But the most important number to agencies trying to save lives has now decreased to even less than it was in 1950 at 889.
"That's why this is such a huge accomplishment for Missouri," said Missouri State Highway Patrol Superintendent Colonel James F. Keathley. "When you consider the dramatic differences between now and 1950, it is truly amazing that we can have almost the same number of fatalities as we did back then and yet the huge difference in the death rate per 100 million miles traveled."
In 2007, Missouri recorded fewer than 1,000 fatalities for the first time in more than 15 years. This allowed the coalition to meet an ambitious goal one year early. In October 2008, the coalition announced a new goal for traffic fatality reductions at 850 or less by 2012. The last time Missouri reached less than 850 fatalities was 1949.
"We came really close in 2009 to reaching our goal of 850 traffic fatalities by 2012," Depue said. "If we can implement additional life-saving strategies, then we have a better chance to meet this goal."
One of the top strategies for meeting the new goal is strengthening Missouri's seat belt law to allow for primary enforcement. A 2009 survey reported only 77 percent of Missourians are buckling up. The state's rate has been at a plateau since 2004 and remains consistently below the national average of 84 percent.
"A primary seat belt law in Missouri would increase the usage rate saving 63 lives, 759 serious injuries and $179 million in costs in the first year it goes into effect," Depue said.