Out of all 114 counties in Missouri, Phelps County had the eighth highest traffic fatality rate last year.

Out of all 114 counties in Missouri, Phelps County had the eighth highest traffic fatality rate last year.

There were a total of 19 traffic fatalities in the county last year, which is almost double from the amount of fatalities reported in the county in 2011, which was 10.

While Sgt. Danny Crain, Troop I public information officer with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, didn't have specific statistics available when he was contacted Tuesday, he said, "that's unusual to have that many more fatalities."

Troop I covers a six-county area in south central Missouri and includes Phelps, Pulaski, Crawford, Maries, Laclede and Dent counties.

Crain said in the Troop I area, there were 44 fatalities reported in 2012, one more than in 2011.

"When we look at our monthly traffic crash reports, typically in the Troop I area, Phelps always leads the other counties as far as total traffic crashes," Crain said.

So why are there so many crashes, especially fatal ones, in Phelps County?

For one reason, Phelps County is the intersection of two major highways — U.S. Highway 63 and Interstate 44, which has about 30 miles in the county.

"And unlike a lot of interstates you typically find, in Phelps County, there are a lot of hills and curves," Crain said.

The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) has done much to improve the interstate, especially on the western side of the county, but "you're still talking about high traffic volume on I-44," Crain said.

"We're not the eighth most populous county in the state, but we're the most populated county in the Troop I area," Crain said.

Compared to Phelps County, other counties in the area had fewer fatalities reported in 2012.

Crawford County ranked 28th in Missouri with eight fatalities and Pulaski and Gasconade counties had a tied ranking of 30th with seven fatalities each.

Despite Pulaski County's ranking, it saw a decrease in fatalities in 2012 compared to 2011. Pulaski County had 13 people lose their lives on its roads in 2011.

There were three fatalities in Dent County and Maries County had the lowest in the region at two.

In MoDOT's Central District, which includes Phelps and 17 other counties in the central part of the state, fatal accidents held constant at 120 lives lost in 2011 and 2012. Last year, Phelps County ranked second highest in the Central District.

The Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety through its Blueprint to Save More Lives has set a goal for the state to reduce traffic fatalities to 700 by 2016.

Between 2005 and 2011, Missouri's annual traffic fatalities fell from 1,257 to 786. In fact, in 2011 Missouri experienced the lowest number of traffic crash fatalities since 1947.

However, in 2012, there were 37 more people who died in fatal car crashes across the state when compared to 2011. The state finished 2012 with 823 fatalities, which is about 4 percent higher than in 2011.

The Meramec Region Coalition for Roadway Safety Subcommittee is expected to meet Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 1:30 p.m. at the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) office, 4 Industrial Drive in St. James, to review recent traffic statistics and strategize ways to reach local drivers and encourage safe driving habits.

Law enforcement, fire departments, EMS personnel, educators, health care professionals and the public are invited to attend the meeting and learn more about the subcommittee's efforts to reduce fatalities and accidents.

MoDOT Director of Highway Safety Leanna DuPue is scheduled to speak at the meeting.

The subcommittee aims to localize coalition efforts by promoting the Arrive Alive message, encouraging the use of seat belts and booster seats, discouraging drinking and driving, and discouraging the use of cellphones while driving and other types of distracted driving.

In the past year, there have been many events and programs that promote safety on area roads, such as Safety Day at Fort Leonard Wood and county fairs; the Buckle Buddy program for elementary students, a program that uses a stuffed dragon named Buddy to encourage seat belt and booster seat usage among young children; a grant program for Safe and Sober prom docu-dramas and Project Graduations; and Battle of the Belt, a statewide seatbelt competition among high schools.