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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - This Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, file photo, shows a call log displayed via an AT&T app on a cellphone in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

While the number of fatality crashes in 2018 have declined slightly from 2017, the number of cellphone-related crashes have been growing at an alarming rate, officials with the Missouri Department of Transportation said.

For the third year in a row, more than 900 people were killed in Missouri traffic crashes. Preliminary numbers indicate 918 died in 2018, down slightly from 932 in 2017.

Speed, distraction, impairment and fatigue continue to be top causes of fatal crashes, while the number of cellphone-related crashes has become increasingly prevalent in the state.

"Cellphone-related crashes are up 35 percent since 2014," said Jon Nelson, MoDOT assistant to the state highway safety and traffic engineer. "It's one of the fastest growing causes of fatal crashes in Missouri, and like most other contributing factors, it's completely preventable."

MoDOT officials said one of their recent surveys indicated more Missourians are buckling up than ever before, but the impacts of not wearing a seat belt and using the phone are hard to ignore. Pickup truck drivers, they said, are especially overrepresented as they had the lowest seat belt usage rate in the state.

"Eighty-seven percent of Missourians are buckling up, but the few who aren't account for more than 60 percent of our traffic fatalities," Nelson said. "When it comes to cellphones, nobody wants to be on the road with a driver constantly using their phone, but so many people find it acceptable to do it themselves. We can do better."

According to information from the Missouri Highway Patrol, Cole County had four fatal crashes in 2018, Boone County had 10, Callaway County had six, Miller County had five, Moniteau had three, Morgan had four and Osage had two. There were none reported in Maries County.

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