(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) released the total number of traffic fatalities statewide and the number in northwest Missouri increased.
According to the report, the northwest region of the state saw an increase of nearly 15 percent in deaths, with 62 people losing their lives on the roads.
Sgt. Jake Angle with the Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop H says that the increase is troublesome.
"Unfortunately we had increase and that's just now what we want to see," Angle said.
For the entire state of Missouri, 918 people lost their lives in traffic crashes, which is a decrease from 932 in 2017.
Locally, experts say the reason for the increase may be simply because drivers are not doing enough to protect themselves.
"Our seat belt usage rate in the state of Missouri is typically 80 to 83 percent. That's one of the lowest in the nation," Angle said.
He also said that if more people wore seat belts, the fatality rate would likely be much lower.
The St. Joseph Safety and Health Council is working to bring these numbers down by promoting safe driving techniques. Sheldon Lyon, the executive director of the council says that the fatality numbers fluctuate each year but there are some reasons that this year's numbers may have been higher.
"Any time you have cheaper gas prices, that can affect the fatality rate," Lyon said. "That's because people drive more."
Lyon also says that more people being in cars could also lead to an increase.
Another reason is cell phone usage. According to MoDOT, cellphone related crashes are up 35 percent since 2014 in the state.
"The way people have to be instantly connected these days, it's tough for people to put their phones down. They hear it vibrate or ring and they are urged to pick that phone up," Angle said.
An alternative is hands free devices but those may not be as safe as many people think.
"The problem with that is, you are still dividing your attention," Lyon said. "Yeah you are looking at the road, your hands are on the wheel but where is your mind? Is your mind on that call? Or is it on that traffic that is slowing down abruptly in front of you?"
Both Angle and Lyon both say that the best thing you can do to stay safe behind the wheel is to wear your seat belt and to not drive distracted or impaired.
"There's a lot of people out there driving so we need to be attentive to the task at hand of driving," Lyon said.
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