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Kansas and Missouri show improvement as traffic fatality rates decline

Updated: 2014-01-05T05:57:19Z

By MARÁ ROSE WILLIAMS

The Kansas City Star

Highway officials for Missouri and Kansas report fewer people died in traffic accidents in 2013, falling in step with a national trend that’s finding the country’s roads safer to travel.

Except for 2012, when the rate of traffic fatalities jumped across the country, the road death rates in Missouri and Kansas have been dropping steadily since 2005.

Still, there is work to be done.

“One fatality is one too many,” said Mike King, Kansas secretary of transportation, in a statement last week.

Analysts credit the saved lives to safety belts, laws mandating their use, better first-responder techniques, safer auto designs and efforts to discourage drunken and distracted driving.

Kansas reported the fewest traffic deaths since record keeping began in 1947. In 2013, according to preliminary reports, 344 people died on Kansas roads, compared with 405 in 2012. The previous low was in 2008 when 385 died. The high was in 1969 with 780.

In Missouri, preliminary statistics from last year show 741 traffic fatalities, 85 fewer than 2012 and a 41 percent decrease from the 1,257 fatalities recorded in 2005.

“Of those killed in crashes in 2013, about 63 percent of them were not wearing seat belts,” said Capt. Tim Hull of the Missouri Highway Patrol.

Each year over the past seven years, with the exception of a slight increase in 2012, the rate of traffic deaths across the country dropped.

National numbers are not yet available for all of 2013, but predictions suggest the nation’s roadways are safer.

In October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated 15,470 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of 2013. That was 4.2 percent fewer than in the first half of 2012.

More people wear seat belts. Police more stringently enforce traffic safety laws. Emergency responders are better trained and have access to improved equipment. Education about driving impaired or distracted, analysts said, is working. And cars have increasing levels of safety that go beyond seat belts and air bags.

“Vehicles are able to withstand crashes much better today than they could 15 or 20 years ago,” said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. “People are walking away from crashes that would have killed them a decade ago.”

Designs distribute the energy from a crash throughout the vehicle and away from the cabin. Vehicles have stronger roofs and tougher safety carriages.

Rader said his group believes new technology that monitors the direction a vehicle is traveling, automatically brakes and reduces engine throttle to prevent a driver from losing control will make driving even safer.

Missouri officials hope to reduce the number of traffic fatalities to fewer than 700 by 2016. Kansas officials have set a goal to cut their number in half by 2030.

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.

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