Are Missouri’s roads becoming safer, or are people becoming better drivers? It’s a combination of both, officials say, that is attributing to a decreased number of highway fatalities.

Are Missouri’s roads becoming safer, or are people becoming better drivers? It’s a combination of both, officials say, that is attributing to a decreased number of highway fatalities.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Troop H — which covers a 15-county area of northwest Missouri (including Livingston County) — recorded 27 vehicle deaths in 2013. That’s about 30 percent less than 2012’s 38. In 2011, there were 42 people killed on highways within the region.
The downward trend in traffic deaths has been seen throughout the state. Preliminary statistics indicate that  Missouri recorded 755 traffic fatalities in 2013. This is a 40 percent decrease from the 1,257 fatalities recorded in 2005 and only the second time (with 2011 being the first) since 1949 that Missouri has experienced fewer than 800 traffic deaths, the patrol reports. There were 826 traffic deaths statewide in 2012, and 786 in 2011.
Not only have traffic fatalities decreased, but the number of accidents have decreased as well.
“I have every reason to believe that this trend will continue,” said Sgt. Sheldon Lyon, public information and education officer for Troop H.
Lyon, who has been with the Highway Patrol for 29 years, says the four “E”s have made a difference in reducing the number of deaths: Engineering, Education, Enforcement, and EMS.  
“These four things have come together and made an impact on the fatality rate,” he said. “Just a few short years ago, there were more than 1,000 killed in the state.”
Engineering could include safety measures, such as adding rumble stripes to the roadway to alert drivers when they are veering off of their driving lanes and cables strung along the medians to prevent crossover collisions.
Education plays a key roll in preventing accidents. In this area, the patrol, along with the Missouri Department of Transportation, talk with high school students about driving safety. Through the use of a rollover simulator and convincer brought to the schools, the students watch a demonstration and learn about safety devices. They also watch a film that focuses on accidents in which alcohol use, speed and inattention were factors.
“When you think about the education these kids are getting, we have taken a quantum leap from where we were a few decades ago.” Lyon said.
The patrol is vigilant about teaching young people about the importance of seat belt usage.
“We need to reach these kids so they make these habits before they become adults,” Lyon said.
Bucklin High School, in Linn County, was just awarded $500 for winning the Battle of the Belt Challenge, a competition to raise seat belt use among teens. The students, in a surprise seat belt check at the school, were found to have achieved 96.30 percent seat belt usage.
Although Missouri has a secondary seat belt law, meaning that a law-abiding motorists cannot be pulled over just because he or she is not wearing a seatbelt, they could be written a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt if they are pulled over for some other violation.
Enforcement efforts are constantly ongoing, Lyon stated.
Another critical component about the decline in traffic deaths on Missouri roads is the emergency medical service. The EMS personnel are responding to accidents faster than ever before, getting injured victims to hospitals quicker, and the quality of care is improving all of the time, Lyon said.
­A number of safety measures implemented on highways throughout the state are funded through federal assistance. Because Missouri does not have a primary seat belt law or an open containers law, federal funds coming into the state have restricted uses, and can be used only on safety enhancements such as guard rails at bridge ends, rumble stripes, and guard cables on the interstates.
“We can’t use that money to put asphalt on the roadway since we don’t have those laws,” said Tonya Lohman, area engineer for MoDOT’s Northwest District. “That’s 16 million we are not allowed to spend on road and bridge improvements.”
MoDOT began installing guard cables along interstates in 2003, and their placement has proven to reduce the number of traffic deaths due to crossovers.
“There are very few now,” Lohman said. “This has been really successful.”
Rumble stripes placed on the shoulders of the lanes as well as down the center of two-lane highways have also improved driving safety, Lohman said. She noted that most of U.S. Highway 36 across Missouri has rumble stripes, as does U.S.  Highway 65 from the Iowa line to Carrollton, which was completed a few years ago.
Traffic patterns are continually evaluated to determine possible changes to best create safe driving conditions. An example of this would be the installation of a traffic signal at Hornet Drive and Route 190 at the Chillicothe High School. Lohman said that MoDOT will soon be evaluating possible changes that may be needed when the new Hedrick Medical Center is completed.
Although physical improvements such as rumble stripes enhance safety, sometimes, it’s a matter of dollars and traffic volume that determines whether they are installed on lesser traveled roads.
“Typically, we don’t have enough volume on lettered roads to justify that expense,” Lohman said. “You have to think about the number of users that you’re impacting because you only have so much money.”
“The goal is to get to zero lives lost, but that’s pretty unrealistic,” Lohman said.
Although MoDOT can put safety measures in place, much is to the driver, she added.
The Blueprint for Safety helps fund a number of safety endeavors, including education, speed checks by the highway patrol, and certification of child safety seat technicians to help ensure children are properly buckled and secured in  safety seats. Funds are also used for highway safety ads that are played in movie theaters and on radio stations.