EDITORIAL: 'Buckle up, phone down'

·2 min read

Jan. 12—More than 1,000 people died on Missouri's roads and highways in 2021, the most in the past 15 years.

Preliminary data showed 1,004 people were killed in crashes last year, a 2% increase over 2020 and the second consecutive year fatalities increased after more than a decade of decline, the Missouri Department of Transportation said in a news release.

Given that we have had two years of a pandemic that has kept many people home more, the news that traffic fatalities are increasing is shocking and tragic. Lack of seat belts, cellphone use while driving, and speeding were factors in the deaths, the department said.

Data showed about two-thirds of the people who died on the state's roads were not wearing seat belts. Drivers using a cellphone were involved in more than 2,200 crashes in Missouri last year, although the department said distracted driving is widely underreported. And 41% of the fatal crashes involved speeding or driving too fast for the conditions.

There have been multiple reports that cite increased speed contributing to the uptick over the past two years. Less traffic, which might be expected to reduce deaths, seems to have made many drivers feel free to open up the throttle. It may have also made many feel they can be on their cellphones while driving. But we report a number of single-vehicle accidents each week, many serious. One can't help but wonder how many of these are cases of distracted driving.

The worst thing is how many lives are being wasted in ways that are completely preventable. If drivers travel at a speed that is safe for road conditions, if they focus on driving as the high-stakes activity that it is, and if they simply buckle up, they are likely to survive even if there is a crash.

"Wearing your seat belt is your best line of defense in a crash and avoiding distractions can prevent those crashes in the first place," said Patrick McKenna, transportation department director, in a report from The Associated Press. "Buckle up, phone down."

Some of you will say, "I'm not worried about me. I know what I'm doing. I'm worried about those other idiots." It is always the other idiot, until it isn't. A lot more drivers died this year because they thought it would be different for them. It wasn't, and it isn't.

Put your phone down. Slow down. Buckle up.

You'll be more likely to survive to complain about those other idiots.

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