A string of recent deaths on southwest Missouri highways have had one glaring similarity: The deceased wasn't wearing a seatbelt.
The most recent tragedy in the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Troop D coverage area occurred Sunday night when Fair Grove resident Cary Cave was ejected from a vehicle after it left a rural roadway on Route CC and overturned.
The patrol said Cave, 58, wasn't wearing a seatbelt in his 2003 Chevrolet Monte Carlo. He was the fourth southwest Missourian in a week to die after being ejected from a vehicle.
MSHP Troop D spokesman Mike McClure has noticed the issue.
"It is a state law, but more importantly it is a life-saving habit affording any occupant the best safety device available in any vehicle," McClure said. "It only works when you use it."
According to MSHP data that was last updated Oct. 1, there have been 153 deaths this year on southwest Missouri highways.
Of those deaths, 115 were in vehicles that offer seatbelts (the other 38 were from motorcycles). Investigations determined that 57 didn't wear a seatbelt and seven others either didn't wear the seatbelt properly or its use was undetermined.
This month, according to MSHP data compiled by the News-Leader on Wednesday, nine deaths occurred in Troop D in vehicles that offer seatbelts. Only three appear to have worn a seatbelt.
Missouri has relatively lax seatbelt laws. Drivers age 16 and over can only be ticketed for not wearing a seatbelt as a secondary offense, meaning an officer would need another reason to pull over a driver before issuing a potential seatbelt ticket.
Fines for most adult seatbelt violations range from $10 and can jump to $50 if a child is unbuckled.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: More than 50% of Ozarks vehicle deaths in 2023 didn't include seatbelt