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January 24, 2010

Falling fatalities: Highway deaths continue on four-year decrease

By Wally Kennedy

wkennedy@joplinglobe.com

For the fourth year in a row, the number of people killed in Missouri highway crashes has fallen.

The death toll for 2009 was 871, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. That’s almost 100 fewer than the number killed in 2008.

Not since 1950 has Missouri seen so few people killed in highway crashes. In that year, when far fewer people and vehicles were on the road than today, the death toll was 889.

Safer vehicles, improved emergency medical services, safer highways, increased law enforcement and educational efforts promoting the use of seat belts are combining to lower the loss of life on Missouri highways, officials say.

“Lives are being saved because the coalition partners are working together — and it’s an exciting thing for Missouri,” said Leanna Depue, chairwoman of the executive committee of the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety, in a prepared statement.

Overall, since 2005, traffic deaths have decreased by 31 percent, because of the combined efforts of highway safety advocates in the coalition.

Revee White, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said in a recent interview that many things have changed since 1950. Missouri’s total population, she said, has increased by more than 51 percent. Missourians are driving five times more miles than they did in 1950, and the number of registered vehicles has quadrupled.

“That’s why this is such a huge accomplishment for Missouri,” said Col. James F. Keathley, the Missouri State Highway Patrol superintendent, in a prepared statement. “When you consider the dramatic differences between now and 1950, it is truly amazing that we can have almost the same number of fatalities as we did back then, but yet have this huge difference in the death rate per 100 million miles traveled.”

In October 2008, the coalition announced a goal of reducing the number of traffic fatalities to 850 or lower by 2012. The last time Missouri had fewer than 850 fatalities was in 1949.

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