The Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety through its new Blueprint to Save More Lives has set a goal of reducing traffic fatalities in the state to 700 or fewer by 2016, but how will that goal be accomplished?
Leanna Depue, the coalition’s executive committee chair and director for highway safety with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), talked about ways that all motorists can help achieve the goal Wednesday during a meeting of the Meramec Regional Planning Commission (MRPC) Coalition for Roadway Safety Subcommittee.
While 700 or fewer fatalities on Missouri’s roads is the coalition’s goal, “our vision for Missouri is zero fatalities,” Depue said.
While there may be skeptics who don’t believe zero is possible, she asked, “How many fatalities are OK? If we get 100, are we doing good? If we have 50, is that good? How many fatalities are OK for your family?”
The new blueprint is the coalition’s third initiative. The coalition’s first goal of 1,000 fatalities or fewer set in 2004 was met one year early and the second goal of 850 fatalities or fewer set in 2008 was met two years early.
Depue noted that even though not all people serve on one of the state’s coalition or subcommittees, it will take everyone to help meet the goal.
“Every time you get in a car you really make a decision to put a safety belt or don’t put a safety belt on. You make a decision if you go and you drink to choose to drive. You make decisions about using your phones or texting while you’re behind the wheel,” she said. “What kind of driver are you going to be and how are you going to help us provide safer roadways for all citizens of Missouri?”
About 18 people from various law enforcement, safety, health and other agencies attended the meeting at the MRPC office in St. James. Depue asked attendees if they knew of someone who had died or suffered a serious life-changing injury from an accident, with most people raising their hands.
“I find that traffic crashes…they impact everyone. They impact our friends, our family, our acquaintances, our fellow workers,” she said.
“It’s very hard to predict where the next fatality is going to be or we would have a highway patrolman or local law enforcement right there to prevent that fatality from occurring, but we never know when they’re going to occur,” she said.
Since 2005, the state has seen six straight years of reductions in fatalities. In 2005, there were 1,257 and in 2006, the number dropped to 1,096. In 2007, there were 992 reported fatalities and 960 in 2008. In 2009, the number decreased to 878 and in 2010, there were 821 deaths on Missouri roads and highways. In 2011, there were 786, the lowest number of traffic crash fatalities since 1947.
However, in 2012, fatalities increased to 828, according to reports as of Wednesday.
Missouri is one of nine states with six straight years of fatality reduction, one of 10 states that has had at least a 35 percent reduction between 2005 and 2011 and is one three states that has saved more than 2,000 lives during that period. “Missouri is the only state that has done all three,” Depue said.
Depue shared a list called the “necessary nine” which are strategies to be implemented to make significant progress toward reducing motor vehicle crashes that result in serious injuries and death.
The nine strategies are increasing safety belt use, installing more rumble strips and stripes, increasing efforts to reduce substance-impaired drivers, improving intersection safety, improving curve safety, changing traffic safety culture, improving road shoulders, increasing enforcement efforts and improving road visibility.
“We got to work on changing the culture that we have in the state so that people do the right thing because it’s the right thing,” she said.
Seat belt usage in Missouri is at 79 percent, below the national average of 86 percent, according to Depue. For teen drivers in Missouri, the usage rate is 66 percent.
On average, 68 percent of motorists in Missouri who die in crashes are unbuckled and in the last three years, teens who didn’t buckle up accounted for 75 percent of teen deaths in traffic crashes, Depue said.
Of the 30 traffic fatalities reported so far in 2013, 71 percent were not belted, Depue said. As of Jan. 26, 2013, there have been 30 fatalities compared to 47 as of Jan. 26, 2012.
Safety measures like guardrails and cables have helped reduce crossover accidents, Depue noted, estimating that the approximate 800 miles of guardrails on major interstates from border to border save 45 lives per year.
Another safety measure is about 10,000 to 11,000 miles of rumble strips along Missouri highways, which is estimated to save 100 lives per year, Depue said.
“We still need to try to get shoulders and rumbles on our roadways and right now, I know we’re making some major efforts to get that on our minor roadways,” Depue said.
Trent Brooks, MoDOT district traffic engineer, said while there are projects in the pipeline to add shoulders and rumble strips across the state soon, he wasn’t aware at this time of any in Phelps County that would occur soon.
Installation of rumble strips in certain areas depends on traffic crash history, Brooks said. However, Phelps County ranked eighth in traffic fatalities in the state last year with 19.
Depue said funds to pay for overtime of law enforcement officials has also helped with making roads safer through sobriety checkpoints and deterring aggressive driving and speeding.
“When you see a law enforcement officer stopping a person, don’t think, that poor soul is getting a ticket. Think about safer roadways and safer communities,” she said.
Dwayne Clingman, the driver’s education instructor at Owensville High School, said he feels students are not afraid of death or the cost of a seat belt ticket.
It also was noted that students learn from their parents, so if the adults don’t buckle up, it can influence the kids not to wear a seat belt either, attendees agreed.
Lt. Bruce Fiske, with the MSHP, said since there has been resistance from the legislature to pass a primary seat belt law in Missouri, the push now is to increase the fine for not being buckled up. That fine is $10 for drivers and passengers 16 years and older and any change would have to be approved by the legislature.
Current state law states that an officer can pull over drivers for a separate violation and then ticket them if they are not wearing their seat belts.
Sgt. Danny Crain, of the MSHP, said there is a behavioral drift, in which there is a gradual decline in seat belt usage as children become teens. He said when a teen doesn’t wear a seat belt and drives somewhere and nothing happens, it can influence them to continue to drive without buckling up.
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 grant program for Safe and Sober prom docu-dramas and Project Graduations; and Battle of the Belt, a statewide seat belt competition among high schools. There were about 16 schools in the eight-county Meramec Region that participated recently.
It was noted during the meeting that two St. James teens who were killed in a crash Dec. 15, 2012, on I-44 near Rolla were involved in the Battle of the Belt program at John F. Hodge High School. They were both unbuckled in the crash, according to the MSHP.
“You’re going to go out there and do everything you can, you’re going to enforce, you’re going to educate, you’re going to engineer, and you just keep on battling … sometimes those things are going to happen,” Crain said.
MoDOT’s dynamic message boards on interstates and major highways also have been listing the number of roadway deaths in Missouri and the percentage of those unbuckled since the summer of 2012. Attendees agreed that those signs catch motorists’ attention.
New programs discussed were Friday Night Lights, the Missouri Safe and Sober program and Crain mentioned getting the word out at area school athletic events.
Michelle Gibler, director of the ThinkFirst Missouri program, also talked about the trauma/injury prevention program. Through the program, young survivors of crashes who have brain or spinal injuries share their experience with schools, businesses and community groups statewide. “Students are influenced by stories from their peers,” she said.
In addition, Gibler gave information about the ThinkFirst traffic offenders program, a sentencing alternative for state traffic courts.