Traffic fatalities in Missouri increased last year and the primary cause is distracted driving. The National Safety Council says Missouri had 939 traffic fatalities in 2016, up 9 percent from 2015 and up 24 percent from 2014.

“This is the worst year that we’ve had since 2007, and it’s the largest two year increase in fatalities in over 50 years,” says the National Safety Council’s Deborah Hersman.

Alcohol, speeding and distractions are the leading causes of the fatalities. Thirty percent of all crashes involve alcohol impaired drivers and another 30 percent involve excessive speed. Hersman says texting and driving also continues to be an issue.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. To promote responsible driving, the Missouri Highway Patrol has produced a 15-minute video called “Don’t Violate The Trust.” Missouri Farm Bureau helped underwrite the video, which is aimed at teenagers. The video is available from troop headquarters to show to schools, civic organizations and churches.

Missouri Farm Bureau employees have also pledged to “Buckle UP/Phone DOWN.” The Missouri Department of Transportation and the Missouri Coalition for Roadway Safety are challenging Missouri businesses and private individuals to buckle up and put their phones down.

First, drivers can put their phones down when they slide behind the wheel. The Missouri State Highway Patrol reports that cellphones were involved in 2,237 crashes in 2015 alone.

Next, people can buckle up every time they get in a vehicle. Of the 938 people killed on Missouri’s roadways last year, 684 were drivers and passengers of vehicles, and a tragic 62 percent of them were unrestrained.

Statistics show these two policy changes make a difference in safety. “You are 23 times more likely to be in a critical incident when the driver is texting and driving,” Highway Safety Director Bill Whitfield said. “And only eight states scored lower than Missouri on voluntary safety belt use.”

The Buckle UP/Phone DOWN Challenge is trying to change these numbers. Social media posts and a dedicated website feature citizens and employees of participating businesses giving the “thumbs up/thumbs down” sign to show their support of the effort.

We hope you’ll join us in this effort, as this time of year farmers and ranchers use the highways to move large farm equipment to and from their fields. Keeping an eye out for these vehicles and reducing distraction behind the wheel keeps both farmers and drivers safer.