COLUMBIA - Fatalities on Missouri roadways are on the rise for the first time since 2005, according to the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety. As of Nov. 4, the amount of deaths of Missouri roadways this year is 694. At this time last year, there were 653 fatalities. That's an increase of six percent, or 41 people.
A contributing factor is the lack of seatbelt use. 64 percent of people who have died in a traffic accident in Missouri this year were not wearing their seatbelts. In all of 2011, that figure was 70 percent. According to the Coalition, only 79 percent of Missourians wear their seatbelts. That percentage is well below the national average of 85 percent.
When you look at teenage drivers, the figures become even more drastic. Three out of four teen drivers who died in a traffic accident in 2011 were not wearing a seatbelt, and only 67 percent of teens regularly wear their seatbelt. For more statistics, visit http://savemolives.com/facts-figures.html.
In an effort to increase teen seatbelt usage, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODOT) and the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety developed the Battle of the Belt. The "battle" is a challenge between area high schools in hopes of seeing an increase in seatbelt knowledge and usage. The competition has been going for several years, but Dianna Johnson, MODOT Traffic Safety Technician, said this year's competition has the highest number ever of schools registered: 48.
The competition includes a checkpoint at the beginning, an education "frenzy" in the middle and another checkpoint at the end. Officials are looking for two things.
"We want to see the highest percentage of seatbelt usage in each school and we want to see how much improvement we see between the first seatbelt check and the last seatbelt check," Johnson said.
Johnson added that education includes speakers, actual wrecked cars, posters with statistics and impaired driving simulations. The schools and MODOT worked together to customize programs to each school's needs.
Two Columbia high schools participated in the program and both saw increases in the number of students wearing their seatbelts. Rock Bridge HS reported a 20 percent increase from their first checkpoint on Sept. 27 to their second checkpoint on Nov. 8. Hickman HS reported an increase of five percent from Oct. 24 to Nov. 2. Johnson said those figures match up with statewide totals as many schools reported an increase in seatbelt usage.
Rock Bridge student Kathleen Wright said she always wears her seatbelt and makes those in the car with her wear theirs as well. She added that she knows a lot of reasons why high schoolers don't though.
"I think some teenagers just don't care or dont' want to take the time to put them on," Wright said.
including not wanting to take the time to put them on or being raised in a family that didn't stress the importance of seatbelts. Johnson said more reasons why teenagers tend to disregard their seatbelts include the desire to look cool in front of their peers, a lack of knowledge of how important they are or wanting to avoid messing up their clothes or hair.
Johnson hopes that this program and others will help Missourians see the importance of seatbelt usage and reduce the amount of fatalities on Missouri roadways.
To check out Missouri laws on seatbelts, click here.
To learn how to properly wear a seatbelt, click here.