SIKESTON -- As the peak travel days for summer are approaching, the Missouri Department of Transportation and law enforcement agencies continue working together to keep the highways safer and the number of fatalities down.
To do that, MoDOT is making the public aware of its "Click It or Ticket" campaign starting Monday with enforcement efforts beginning May 24 and running through June 6.
While there has been a decrease in fatalities this year -- there are currently 37 traffic fatalities in Troop E compared to 57 at this same time last year -- Sgt. Larry Plunkett Jr., public information officer for the Patrol's Troop E, noted the majority of fatalities occur because people are not wearing their seatbelts.
"For several years it was not the law that you had to wear your seatbelt in the state of Missouri," Plunkett pointed out.
So for some, getting into the habit of wearing a seatbelt may be a little harder than it is for others.
"They have to create the mentality of the importance of wearing a seatbelt," Plunkett explained. "If people would just try it, I feel confident they wouldn't even notice it after two months. It might be a little uncomfortable and awkward at first, but if they stay with it for two or three months, it won't bother them after a while."
Jackie Allen, operations specialist for the MoDOT Highway Safety Division in Jefferson City, suggested perhaps people just don't understand the dynamics of a crash and how the seatbelt actually works.
"Seatbelts keep you in your place and help absorb the crash forces," Allen said.
The statewide campaign emphasizes increased enforcement of Missouri's traffic laws, including following too closely, speeding, driving while intoxicated and occupant restraint violations. Law enforcement across the state will take a zero tolerance stance.
"It's very easy to be distracted, and if you're going 60 or 70 miles per hour and look away from the roadway for one or two seconds, that's about 300 feet," Plunkett pointed out.
One big misconception a lot of people have is because they've never had a traffic crash, they perceive themselves as a good driver and think nothing will happen to them, Plunkett noted. "But even though they're doing a good job, you can't prevent another driver from crossing the center line or failing to stop at a stop sign or a vehicle defect. You just never know," Plunkett said.
In 2002, there were 80 fatalities in Troop E and a record 122 fatalities in 2003. Inattention and speed are still the largest contributors of fatalities, Plunkett said.
Last year 1,231 people died on Missouri roadways, and 638 of them were not properly restrained by a safety belt or child safety seat.
While the number of fatalities is important, the number of injuries occurring each year is also important, Plunkett said, adding tens of thousands of injuries ranging from a broken finger to lost limbs to lifelong paralysis occur each year.
Safety belts reduce the risk of serious injury for front seat occupants of passenger cars by 50 percent and light trucks by 65 percent, MoDOT reports.
Allen said MoDOT has conducted the "Click It or Ticket" campaign for the last several years. It started with seatbelt surveys, and in 1999 the first enforcement campaign was implemented.
Approximately 60 percent of Missourians wore their seatbelts when it began and in 2003, about 73 percent were wearing their seatbelts. Scientific observational surveys of motorists are conducted each year to gather the data, Allen said.
States with primary seatbelt laws are seeing higher numbers of seatbelt users, Allen said. The states that have primary laws see 11 percent higher usage rates at 80 or above. Missouri has a secondary seatbelt law.
"This means in Missouri, law enforcement cannot pull someone over primarily for seatbelt use," Allen explained. "There has to be some other offense involved such as speeding or a tail light out. Then if they're not belted, they can receive a ticket."
Southeast Missouri in Troop E has zero tolerance, Plunkett said referring to the campaign. And if it's determined someone didn't have seatbelt on, officers will issue a summons, he warned.
"We will be enforcing the law strictly for the purpose of preventing deaths and injuries," Plunkett said.
In addition to enforcing seatbelt usage, the patrol is still conducting sobriety checkpoints throughout Troop E. They will target places where there have been a high number of DWI arrests and alcohol-related traffic accidents.