Speed and lack of seat belt use remain top reasons for highway deaths in 2021

Traffic Fatalities

A rise in speeding and other reckless driving behaviors continues to be a disturbing trend in 2021. During the first quarter of the year, there were 176 fatalities in Missouri as a result of traffic crashes. Though down slightly from the first quarter of 2020, officials remain concerned increases in speed observed during the early stages of the pandemic have carried over into 2021.

Preliminary reporting indicates excessive speed played a role in nearly one-third of the traffic deaths so far this year. Unfortunately, this behavior has been exhibited even in vulnerable roadway environments such as work zones. In a recent work zone, law enforcement officers issued 79 citations including several drivers traveling over 100 mph within just a few hours.

First-quarter reports also show a high percentage of people killed in crashes were not using a seat belt. So far in 2021, 68% of the vehicle occupants killed in Missouri crashes were unbuckled. For pickup truck occupants killed in crashes, it’s even worse with 88% being unbuckled.

“We’ll continue to say this for as long as we must. Seat belts really are our best defense if we’re involved in a crash,” said Jon Nelson, chair of the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety. “That one simple choice to buckle up, while not necessarily preventing the crash from happening, oftentimes makes the difference in who survives.”

Speed and a lack of seat belt use aren’t the only concerns. The number of fatalities under the age of 21 has increased by 58% during the first quarter. Likewise, 19 pedestrians have been killed so far in Missouri traffic crashes. In 2020, a record number of pedestrians (127) were killed in Missouri, with impairment and distraction being two of the most common factors in these crashes. Thus far in 2021, 20 people have been killed in impaired driving crashes while another 12 people have been killed as the result of a distracted driver.

“These are all choices we each get to make every day,” said Nelson. “It’s really not complicated. If we all choose to buckle up, put our phones down, drive sober, and drive at an appropriate speed, the vast majority of these tragedies will not occur.”

With April being Distracted Driving Awareness Month, all Missourians are encouraged to take the Buckle Up Phone Down pledge. In addition, Missouri’s new strategic highway safety plan, Show-Me Zero provides information and strategies for all Missourians to help promote four key messages: buckle up, phone down, slow down, and drive sober. The plan can be viewed in full at www.savemolives.com.