SHP Superintendent James Keathley

SHP Superintendent James Keathley

Traffic fatalities in Missouri fell once again in 2009, a continuation of a four-year trend. Still, the head of the State Highway Patrol says they could drop even further if more drivers would take one simple step: buckle up.

Preliminary figures from last year disclose that 872 people lost their lives on Missouri roads, well below the 960 who died in 2008 and 992 who died in 2007. The number is preliminary as changes could still be made to fatal traffic wrecks from last year. Highway Patrol Superintendent James Keathley credited many factors: law enforcement, improve highway engineering and safer cars.

Noting that 394 of those killed in crashes weren’t wearing their seat belt, Keathley said passage of a primary seat belt law would save lives.

“It’s a shame that you really have to legislate laws like that when people ought to know by common sense that if I wear my seat belt I’m gonna have a much better chance at surviving a crash,” Keathley said during a news conference at the State Highway Patrol Headquarters in Jefferson City.

The Patrol estimates that half of those victims, 197, would have survived if wearing a seat belt.

Keathley said the State Highway Patrol doesn’t have to wait for the legislature to enact a primary seat belt law.

“My message would just be to go out to tell people to please wear their seat belt, please buckle up,” Keathley said. “As I said earlier, 197 people we know would have probably been alive in ’09 if they had just been wearing their seat belt.”

Firm opposition to enacting a primary seat belt law remains in the legislature, especially in the House which has killed such measures in the past.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports 1:25 MP3