More than 500 transportation, law enforcement officers and other professionals from across Missouri are hearing alarming statistics about traffic fatalities during the 2022 highway safety and traffic conference in Columbia. The three-day event began Tuesday at the Holiday Inn Executive Center.
Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe (R) delivered opening remarks, noting there is record attendance at this year’s event.
“I’ve been to several of these over the years both as a commissioner (Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission) and elected official (Missouri Senate Majority Leader and lieutenant governor), and this is the largest crowd that I’ve ever seen. And it just tells you that people are interested in trying to figure out how we prevent fatalities and unfortunately deaths on our highway system,” Kehoe says.
The state Department of Transportation (MoDOT) delivered several presentations, emphasizing that Missouri traffic fatalities have increased during the pandemic. The numbers have jumped from 881 in 2019 to 987 in 2020 and to 1,016 in 2021. That’s the largest increase in traffic fatalities since 2006.
MoDOT says speeding was involving in 37 percent of last year’s fatalities.
Lieutenant Governor Kehoe tells 939 the Eagle that distracted driving is at an all-time high in Missouri and nationwide.
“Last year we had two MoDOT crew workers who were literally putting up signs in the St. Louis area. A distracted driver hit three people: one (was) injured and two fatalities. I went to both of those services,” says Kehoe.
Missouri transportation professionals say they’re dealing with speeding, aggressive driving and texting while driving. State Department of Transportation (MoDOT) director Patrick McKenna has called on state lawmakers to ban texting while driving, saying it’s an issue of responsibility. 939 the Eagle News asked Kehoe about those calls. The Jefferson City Republican says legislation banning texting while driving is a tough bill to get through the Legislature, because of the balance of freedom.
“But certainly I think bringing awareness to that. The buckle up phone down issue has done a lot to bring awareness, and simple steps that we can take to start to bring awareness to that,” Kehoe says.
Outgoing Missouri House Transportation Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Porter (R-Montgomery City) has filed legislation banning texting while driving for several years, and the bill has died in the Legislature. Chairman Porter is leaving the Legislature in January, after an unsuccessful Missouri Senate run in August.
MoDOT director McKenna has said that drivers using a cell phone were involved in more than 2,200 crashes in Missouri in 2021.