Lower gas prices contributed to increased 2015 MO traffic deaths

1 year 6 days 7 hours ago January 11, 2016 Jan 11, 2016 Monday, January 11 2016 Monday, January 11, 2016 6:04:00 PM CST in News
By: Jacob Kornhauser, KOMU 8 News

JEFFERSON CITY - Drivers around the country, especially those in Missouri, enjoyed lower gas prices in 2015. However, according to MoDOT and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, those low gas prices helped contribute to a higher traffic death total in Missouri for 2015.

As gas prices in Missouri have dropped to an average of $1.67 per gallon, the lowest in the country, traffic deaths were up 11.4 percent, to 853, in the state in 2015. Missouri State Highway Patrol Sargent Scott White said it's logical that lower gas prices put more people on the roads. 

"Every traffic crash is different, but you do have to look at gas prices. They were lower last year than they were before. That's going to put more people on the roads, so with more traffic, we're going to have more traffic deaths," White said. 

Decreased gas prices themselves, do not cause traffic accidents, though. MoDOT Highway Safety Director Bill Whitfield said distracted and aggressive driving are the leading causes of traffic accidents in the state. That means it comes down to the driver to protect themselves. 

"The first level of safety is the person driving the car. They need to take every action and every precaution to drive defensively," Whitfield said. 

Not wearing a seat belt is another huge cause of traffic deaths. Of the 853 people who died in traffic accidents in Missouri last year, 63 percent of them were not wearing a seat belt. White said the Highway Patrol makes no exceptions for drivers not wearing seat belts. 

"When we pull someone over and they're not wearing a seat belt, they're going to get a citation. That's just something we do not give a warning for," White said.

Entering 2016, AAA projects gas prices drop get even lower this year. 

"With even lower gas prices, we might see individuals take even more trips, whereas in the past they may not have been able to afford to do that, so it will certainly lend itself to more travel. That's all the more reason for the motoring public to realize that prevention is in their hands," Whitfield said. 

In order to stay safe on the roads, White and Whitfield both urge drivers to obey traffic laws and wear their seat belts.

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