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Cagle Law Firm
Attorney Zane Cagle

Posted on February 22nd, 2021,
by Zane Cagle

Almost 1,000 MO Road Fatalities in 2020

Person wearing their seat belt

Posted on February 22nd, 2021 by Zane Cagle

Missouri Sees 12% Increase in Road Fatalities in Spite of Record Low Traffic

The Missouri State Highway Patrol reported 989 lives that were lost to Missouri traffic crashes in 2020 which was up from 2019 at 881.   The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT)  says this early reporting indicates an increase of about 12 percent.  Do please remember that as of mid-March 2020, there was a great lull in traffic due to the pandemic.  Since schools and many jobs had to abruptly transition to remote work, there were about half of the vehicles on the roadways after March, greatly increasing the miles traveled per person, however, our traffic fatalities increased.  Pre-pandemic traffic numbers have still not returned, however, the traffic crashes never slowed.

Tragic Traffic Fatalities as Most are Preventable

“Nearly every fatal crash that occurs is preventable”, says MSHP Public Information and Education Director Captain John Hotz. “Over 90% of these crashes were the result of someone simply making a poor decision, primarily; driving too fast, driving distracted or driving impaired. Many of those killed were not wearing a seat belt”.  Those are very difficult words to hear if you have lost a loved one in a fatal car crash. Again traffic volume in the state was significantly lower for most of 2020.  Missouri experienced its largest number of  fatalities since 2007. There were notable increases were in unbuckled and speed related deaths, with both experiencing about a 25% jump from the  previous year.  This is a horrible statistic.

Unbuckled Occupants and Record Number of Pedestrian Deaths

MoDOT reported that in 2020, 67% of drivers and passengers killed in car crashes were unbuckled and preliminary numbers indicate that 389 people fatally injured in crashes involving excessive speed or driving too fast for conditions.  Additionally, there were 126 pedestrians killed in 2020 which is the largest number of pedestrians killed in Missouri’s recorded history.

“The pandemic reminded us even if a large portion of vehicles are removed from the roadways, poor driving behaviors still have significant and often deadly consequences”, say MoDOT State Highway Safety and Traffic Engineer Nicole Hood.

Wear Your Seat Belt

I talk with individuals involved in motor vehicle crashes, daily. No one has ever told me that they regretted wearing a seat belt. Often times, the difference between talking with an injured person verses their family is the use of a seat belt.  Of course, there are fatal crashes where everyone was wearing a seat belt.  Seat belts do not promise to keep you from being injured—they promise to keep you in the vehicle.  Individuals who wear a seat belt have a far higher survivability rate than those who failed to buckle up.    I hear a lot of excuses on why someone does want wear a seat belt. Ultimately, our “preferences” on whether or not we want to wear a seat belt have little impact on the serious consequences when we fail to buckle up.  Below are the most common excuses to not wear a seat belt:

  1. It is  uncomfortable–actually, compared to the months in the hospital, a seat belt is really comfortable
  2. I have an air bag. Air bags are designed to work WITH seat belts, not as an alternative. Depending on the angle and speed, your air bag may not deploy and then, you are completely unprotected
  3. I’m only going down the road– 80% of crash fatalities occur within 40 miles of your home, thus short trips near home are the best time to wear a seat belt
  4. I’m a safe, careful driver. Unfortunately, your driving behavior is only a fraction of the complex equation and wearing a seat belt is an integral part of you being a safe, careful driver
  5. I’ll just brace myself. To accomplish this, you would need so-far unachievable split-second reaction time. Also, the force of impact would shatter whatever body part you were bracing yourself with. A 50km/h crash has the impact of falling from three floors
  6. A seat belt will trap me in the car if I’m in a crash– If you are ejected, you are 25 times more likely to die. In the very rare instance that the crash causes you to be submerged in water or if your car is on  fire, you’re more likely to be conscious enough to escape than if didn’t have your belt on

SEAT BELTS MAKE LIFE AND DEATH DIFFERENCE IN A CAR CRASH

Statewide, We’ve Got to Make Some Changes!  MoDOT has rolled out some safety plans.  Safety plans are great, but honestly, it takes each and every one of us to practice these safety tips EVERY TIME we climb behind the wheel.  An increase in safety on our roadways can only begin with each one of us as a safer driver. We each can do it and it only demands that we implement a couple of safety habits such as wearing a seat belt, following the rules of the roadway and refraining from driving impaired—same safety pleas we have had for years.

Show-Me, Driving Missouri Toward Safer Roads is a new strategic highway safety plan that identifies four key focus areas:  occupant protection (seat belts, car seats and helmets), distracted driving, speed and aggressive driving, and impaired driving.

Area 1- Seat belts for ALL occupants is a must.  I know, I know, it is not always fun to be the “rule person” when you and friends pile into the car for an evening of fun or a road trip;  but don’t you want to get there safely with everyone accounted for?  Occupants that fail to wear a seat belt can be ejected, meaning thrown from the vehicle.  For some reason, some only think you can be ejected on the freeway going at a high rate of speed. This is false. On several occasions, persons were ejected from their vehicles in rear-end collisions in downtown St. Louis.  The force of even a slower speed impact can cause ejections.  In a study by the NHTSA over three-quarters (77.3) of the 54,505 passenger vehicle occupants who were ejected in fatal crashes were not able to survive the crash, while 15.1 percent of those ejected received incapacitating injuries. Less than 1 percent (150 of 54,505) of ejected occupants were coded as having no injuries. (NHTSA, Dec 2009)  Your odds of successfully surviving being ejected from motor vehicle crash are slim.

Area 2- Distracted Driving is not a new issue for anyone that has been on the roadway in the last decade.  Typically, we thing of “distracted driving” as any activity that diverts attention away from driving. The most common offender is use of a hand held phone or tablet.  Even though we have had public service announcements, commercials and often first-hand experiences with the dangers of distracted driving; still millions of drivers still think they have to answer a text or check social media while driving. STOP!!!!!!  If the person sending you a message demands an answer when you are driving,  you may want to question how much that person really cares about you!  I am tempted daily to return a message to a client or my wife; but I do know that my wife and my client would much rather wait a half hour until I am able to respond safely. In fact, if I respond to a text to my wife while driving, she would be furious. I try never to make my wife furious.  Likewise, I want to answer my client’s questions.  If I’m hurt or killed in a car crash, then I will not be too helpful to my clients.

Area 3- Impaired Driving. I believe the drunk driving commercials began in the early 1980’s at last,  since I cannot remember a time when there were not PSA’s about drunk driving.  The best way to avoid driving impaired is to plan ahead.  Before you have a couple of cocktails during happy hour or over the weekend, make a plan. How will I get home if I have a couple of drinks?  Can I Uber?  Is there a designated driver in our group?  Some may think that sounds funny, but there is simply no shame in having a plan.  Weirdly enough, any time I meet friends, other attorneys or business acquaintances, if we have a second drink with dinner, the topic always comes up. When you bring up the topic, it means that you care about yourself and the others whether they are old friends or new acquaintances.

Make Missouri Roadways Safer

We all must work together to make the roadways of Missouri safer!  Unless you are planning on leaving the state and not driving through it again (unlikely), then we need to take some personal responsibility to make our roadways safer for us, our friends and family. If you have suffered in a motor vehicle incident, then you will more than likely need legal assistance in  order to obtain the compensation you need and deserve.

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