Our Opinion: Safety message seeks to reverse tragic trend

News Tribune editorial

Sometimes, attention must focus on calamity to inspire a reversal.

The increasing number of highway fatalities soon will be reported on electronic roadside signs operated by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT).

The tragic reminder of highway fatalities — including the percentage of those unbuckled — is designed to emphasize safe driving.

“After a six-year decline in fatalities, we are now seeing an upward trend,” said Eileen Rackers, MoDOT traffic and highway safety engineer.

Fatalities in the state have increased 14 percent, from 404 deaths through July 31, 2011, to 461 during the first seven months of this year.

The messages will be updated weekly and appear periodically on the 66 rural message boards and those in the metro areas.

Although the trend cannot be attributed to any specific cause, contributing factors include failure to use seat beats, impairment, inattention and inexperience.

MoDOT reported:

• During the last three years, seven out of 10 vehicle occupants killed in Missouri traffic crashes were unbuckled.

• Substance-impaired driving contributed to nearly 30 percent of all Missouri traffic fatalities in 2011.

• Eighty percent of crashes involve some form of distracted driving.

• During the last three years, one in four Missouri traffic crashed involved a driver under age 21.

Rackers said the messages are designed “to help motorists to be more aware of safety issues when making travel decisions.”

Admittedly, the messages are paradoxical — displaying a vivid reminder of tragic consequences to encourage safe driving.

But those messages also can prove very effective.

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