Missouri is ranked last in the National Safety Council’s “State of Safety” report. The rankings are based on states’ home, community, workplace and roadway safety regulations. Highway Safety and Traffic Director Bill Whitfield tells Missourinet the report shows the state must strengthen its traffic safety policies, including a primary seat belt law. There are 34 states which allow law enforcement to pull over drivers solely for not wearing their seat belts.

Photo courtesy of MODOT

“We know that’s going to increase our safety belt usage. We’re currently at 81%,” says Whitfield. “Of the fatalities that occur each year in our state, we’re averaging somewhere around 63% to 68% unbuckled fatalities. About half of those are where the occupants were ejected from the vehicle.”

Seat belt usage among men and pickup drivers is even lower than the statewide average.

Missouri is one of three states that does not ban texting while driving. Whitfield wants the state legislature to ban drivers from using their cell phones and texting and strengthen alcohol-related traffic laws.

“We do have an ignition interlock program in the state of Missouri, even though it doesn’t require for all first time offenders,” says Whitfield. “We could have additional strengths in that if we could get a ban on open containers for drivers and passengers.”

He says tougher traffic laws is a tool in the toolbox. Whitfield hopes the report is part of a larger discussion.

“Somewhat of the takeaway on this whole report is that regardless of laws that we have or don’t have, the responsibility for safe driving is up to the occupants and driver of the car. I think that maybe sometimes that gets overlooked more than it should,” says Whitfield. “While it would be good to have all of these laws that the National Safety Council thinks that we should have, and I agree, there are still many preventative things that the drivers of vehicles can start doing today.”

The report gave ten other states an “F” overall. No states received an “A”.

“I think they took a hard line approach on reviewing what the states had in place and knowing that strong laws are a great first step in any traffic safety initiative,” says Whitfield.

Missouri scored higher in its traffic safety efforts involving drivers 65 years and older. The state requires in-person renewals for those individuals and an evaluation could be ordered to determine if they should continue to drive.

About 52 Missouri law enforcement agencies will be patrolling the interstates through Sunday, as part of a special speed enforcement campaign. Five other states are participating in the initiative.