HANNIBAL | The coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home orders have prompted less traffic on Missouri highways in recent months, but there were 403 more traffic fatalities statewide than at this point in 2019.
Gov. Mike Parson said he and fellow officials from the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety “are alarmed” about the loss of lives, working to reverse the trend and remind motorists how to stay safe on the road.
Even though traffic volumes decreased by as much as 50% across the state during the stay-at-home order and closure of non-essential businesses, the Missouri Department of Transportation reported a 12% statewide increase in traffic fatalities before the “100 Deadliest Days of Summer” between Memorial Day and Labor Day, which was named because of the level of traffic fatalities across the U.S. during those days. MoDOT Area Engineer Brian Untiedt said the region's trend of reduced traffic mirrored the statewide situation. In Northeast Missouri, there were two fewer fatalities reported as of Monday, June 22 — 16 fatalities were counted so far, compared to 18 in 2019.
Untiedt said there are important steps motorists can take to stay safe. He said 70% of fatalities involved unbelted motorists and passengers.
“We have seen a slight decrease, but we're still hovering around that same rate that we were going for fatalities, despite the decrease in traffic,” Untiedt said.
Several fatalities in Northeast Missouri were non-traditional in nature — there were two pedestrian fatalities, four fatalities involving motorcycles, one fatality involving a UTV and one fatality involving an ATV. He said two of the eight people in the region who lost their lives in motor vehicles were wearing their seat belts.
Untiedt stressed in addition to buckling their seat belts, motorists can avoid distractions by putting their phones down,being mindful of the speed limit and avoiding impairment from prescription and illegal drugs or alcohol. During the pandemic, speeding increased on Missouri roadways amid the lower traffic levels, and Untiedt said traffic levels are gradually rising as more people venture out for vacation and other summer activities. He reminded motorists to be on the lookout for dangers on the road.
“Especially for those pedestrians, the motorcyclists, the bicyclists, our workers and the construction workers who are out on the road — we really need the drivers to focus on the task at hand, which is driving safely,” Untiedt said.
MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna agreed, saying the situation surrounding the increase in fatalities should receive the same level of response as the coronavirus pandemic.
“We're dealing with a different kind of public health crisis,” McKenna said. “During the pandemic, we see people wearing masks and social distancing, not only for their own protection, but for the health of others. We need a similar commitment from drivers to buckle their seatbelts, put their phones down and slow down.”
Untiedt said www.modot.org contains traffic safety tips, road conditions and other resources for motorists. He also recommended visiting the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety's website at www.savemolives.com, which includes information about the coalition's Strategic Highway Safety Plan toward the goal of zero fatalities and an opportunity to take the Buckle Up Phone Down pledge.