Missouri traffic fatalities reach highest level since 2007

A Palmyra, Mo., police officer checks speeds of motorists passing through Palmyra on U.S. 61 on Friday. The average speeding ticket is written for speeds of 15-20 mph over the posted 55-mph speed limit. Missouri safety agencies are working with the Missouri Department of Transportation on its five-year strategic highway safety plan. The Missouri State Highway Patrol reported 989 people lost their lives on Missouri roads in 2020, the highest level since 2007.

PALMYRA, Mo. — The Missouri State Highway Patrol reported 2020 ended with the most traffic fatalities since 2007, and numerous agencies are working together to reverse the trend.

The Missouri Department of Transportation works with local, county and state law enforcement officials and other safety agencies to implement its “Show-Me Zero, Driving Missouri Toward Safer Roads” strategic highway safety plan, with the goal of reducing traffic fatalities to zero. Audrain, Clark and Knox counties in the Northeast District had zero traffic fatalities in 2020, but MSHP officials said 989 people died on Missouri roadways, compared to 881 people in 2019.

MSHP officials reported a 25% increase in speed-related and unbuckled fatalities, with 67% of those individuals not wearing a seat belt. Palmyra Police Chief Eddie Bogue and MoDOT Communications Manager Marisa Ellison both stressed the importance of buckling up every time — pointing out about 240 lives could have been saved if everyone who was killed had buckled their seat belts.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility to practice safe driving,” Ellison said.

Bogue said between 40,000 and 44,000 people lose their lives each year across the U.S., and he put a clear perspective on how many Missourians died in 2020.

“It’s really sad that 989 lives were lost in Missouri this year due to fatality crashes,” Bogue said. “That number is staggering — it’s nearly 1,000 people,” Bogue said. “The number of people who lost their lives in Missouri, that would be like taking an eraser and erasing New London or LaGrange off the map. Each year, a city with that many people just got erased off the map of Missouri.”

Bogue has been with the department for 13 years, and officers have consistently written tickets for speeds of 15-20 mph greater than the posted 55-mph speed limit.

MoDOT provided large electronic signs a few years ago, flashing to remind motorists coming from each direction about the 55-mph speed limit in the past. Bogue works closely with MoDOT to ensure there are several signs warning of the decreased speed ahead and the posted speed limit on the north and south ends. But inattention and speed have been constant.

“Honestly, I’ve really not seen much deterrence, because the speeds that we observe out on the highway have remained constant pretty much every year,” Bogue said. “We don’t see a big fluctuation of people all of a sudden obeying the speed limits or going slower or going faster — it’s always remained pretty steady.”

U.S. 61 is the only north-south major highway on the eastern side of the state. Bogue said many motorists passing through Palmyra are from states like Iowa, Minnesota and Florida.

At the beginning of 2020, Bogue said officers had less contact with the public, including traffic stops. As the weather warms and the pandemic situation hopefully improves, Bogue plans to bring enforcement back up along U.S. 61.

Ellison shared good news that residents in Audrain, Clark and Knox counties reporting zero fatalities in 2020. MoDOT officials plan to celebrate each milestone, and they are busy working with local, county and state law enforcement officials and other partners to work toward the goal of zero highway fatalities. Marion County ranked second in the Northeast District with seven fatalities.

Ellison said the strategic highway safety plan focuses on four key areas — seat belts, distracted driving, speeding and impaired driving. Safety agencies like MSHP, MoDOT, health departments and county and law enforcement officials are teaming for solutions over the next five years.

The Buckle Up Phone Down program has been growing every day, with 13,259 individuals taking the pledge as of Feb. 11, along with local businesses like Gran Rio Mexican Restaurant, Beth Haven Retirement Community and Bleigh Construction.

BUPD reflects a successful effort to keep safety in the forefront of motorists’ minds, and Ellison said everyone will keep working toward to goal of no more fatalities on Missouri roadways.

“Of course right now one of the challenges is that we are in a virtual environment, however we are hopeful that as the year progresses, we’ll be able to do more in person with our schools and with our partners, and just continue to spread the importance of our strategic plan,” Ellison said. “And this strategic plan is Missouri’s strategic plan — it’s not MoDOT’s, it’s not the hospitals’ — it’s Missouri’s strategic plan. The best thing about that is that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.”

Ellison said she looks forward to reversing the trend of increasing fatalities on Missouri roads. If everyone sticks to the topics of the strategic plan “we will save lives.”

More information about BUPD and the strategic highway plan is available by calling 1-888-ASK-MODOT or by visiting www.modot.org.

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