POPLAR BLUFF -- The Missouri State Highway Patrol is asking three small favors from motorists this Memorial Day Weekend: wear your seat belt, don't drink and drive, and be alert.
"It's no fun to work deadly accidents," assured Sgt. Larry Plunkett, public information officer for Troop E. "We're trained to deal with it, but the worst part is having to tell the family about their loved one's loss of life."
Unfortunately, patrol officials have seen a lot of vehicular ejections lately, Plunkett noted. Coming onto the scene of an ejection is very unusual, he said, adding that typically the victims are traveling 55-70 miles per hour and the accident scene can be anywhere from 300-400 feet long. Partial ejections are just as horrific, he said.
"We've had accidents where we've had to pick the vehicle up off a person," Plunkett said. "What happens is the driver or passenger is ejected from the vehicle and lands out ahead of the vehicle. The vehicle keeps going and runs over the person or pins them underneath the vehicle."
Last year, three people died and 614 were injured in 1,302 traffic crashes over the Memorial Day holiday weekend in Missouri. That is one person killed or injured every 7.6 minutes. Inattention, speeding, and failing to yield the right of way were the leading contributing factors to traffic crashes over the 2002 Memorial Day weekend.
"We expect a large number of drivers on the road this holiday," said Colonel Roger D. Stottlemyre, superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrols. "Obey the traffic laws and buckle your seat belt. We want all of you to arrive at your destination safely."
This year's fatality counting period for the holiday weekend begins at 6 p.m. Friday and ends at 11:59 p.m. Monday. Troopers will focus their attention on seat belt use, use of child safety seats, drinking and driving and speeding. The Patrol will be participating in Operation C.A.R.E. (Combined Accident Reduction Effort) during the long holiday weekend, meaning every available officer will be on the road enforcing traffic laws and assisting motorists.
Troop E is also taking part in the national "Click It or Ticket" campaign, which began Monday and will occur through June 1. The operation will primarily focus on Stoddard and Scott counties in Southeast Missouri, where previous statistics have been collected, but officers throughout the state will be attentive to seat belt usage during the mobilization and will continue to focus on these violations throughout the remainder of the year.
"Seat belt use is critical to saving lives in Southeast Missouri," said Patrol Captain P.C. Baird. "Over 1,200 people died in Missouri traffic crashes during 2002, with 80 of those deaths in our home area.
"The vast majority of people killed in those traffic crashes were not wearing seat belts at the time of the crash," Baird continued. "The data shows everyone can improve their chances of surviving a crash by nearly seventy percent when they take the time to buckle up."
The national average for seat belt use is approximately 75 percent; the Missouri average is just under 70 percent for adult seat belt use. As of May 15, 58 people have died in traffic crashes occurring in the thirteen counties of Troop E, which compares to 24 at the same period in 2002.
Baird also advised all officers in his troop will be utilizing a "zero tolerance" policy toward seat belt violations, stating, "If you're stopped for a traffic violation, you should have your seat belt on and your children properly restrained. If you don't, expect a summons if you're in violation of the state's seat belt laws."
Other tips for motorists include being aware of construction along your route and paying attention while you are driving, Plunkett said.
"Most construction sites are marked by the Missouri Department of Transportation, but this is the time of year in the area when utility workers are also out," Plunkett said.
Motorists should look out and beyond the roadways, Plunkett said. A lot of accidents occur because people are not anticipating that curve or they swerve and over correct, causing them to run off the road, he explained.
No matter how motorists plan to spend their holidays, Plunkett said he knows the Patrol officers don't want to spend their weekend at the scene of a deadly accident.
"It's not the way to enjoy the holiday weekend, which is why we want to encourage everyone to drive safely and be attentive," Plunkett said.
Motorists in need of assistance or who want to report a crime should use the Highway Emergency number 1-800-525-5555 or *55 on a cellular phone.
For road condition reports, travelers can call 1-800-222-6400 to hear about road construction areas throughout the state.
Current Missouri seat belt laws are as follows:
* Every driver of a passenger vehicle and all occupants less than 16 years of age are required to be secured in a properly fastened and adjusted safety belt or child restraint seat.
* Children under 4 are required to be in an approved child restraint seat.
* Persons under age 18 operating or riding in a truck must wear a safety belt, regardless of the truck's licensed gross weight.
* Under the Missouri Graduated Driver's License law, the driver and all occupants are required to wear a safety belt, regardless of age or vehicle type.
Source: Missouri State Highway Patrol