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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - In an effort to combat a rise in roadway fatalities, Troop D discussed recent safety efforts with the Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission on Thursday.

Troop D serves 18 counties across Southwest Missouri. There have been 125 reported fatal car wrecks just this year across those counties. The number of fatal wrecks is up by close to 16% from this time last year.

”I think what we’re still seeing at the beginning of this year was residual from 2020,” said Sgt. Mike McClure with MSHP Troop D. “You just had a lot of people getting outside, moving around more, and you know that translated through the entire year, particularly that 100 dangerous days of summer.”

McClure said excessive speed, distraction and aggressive driving are the leading causes of this year’s fatalities.

Troop D calculates that 11.6% of all fatal crashes in 2021 involved a probable contributing circumstance of “too fast for conditions.” While 9.8% of all fatal crashes in 2021 involved a probable contributing circumstance of “distracted/inattentive” and “failure to yield.” Highway Patrol reports that “improper lane usage/change” and “exceeding the speed limit” were each likely contributing circumstances in 8% of fatal traffic crashes so far in 2021.

“We’re typically higher on the state scale when it comes to fatalities and serious physical injury crashes,” McClure said.

He said Southwest Missouri ranks pretty high when it comes to deadly crashes, just behind St. Louis. McClure said part of that is likely connected to the high amount of destination travel across southern parts of the state.

Some drivers say they specifically try to avoid contributing factors like speed and distraction.

“While driving on the highway, some things I try to implement are hands-free devices, cruise control, and just keep a watch out for other drivers because you just never know,” said Springfield driver Dalton West.

McClure said combating the spike in fatal wrecks starts with one thing.

”Visibility is a big key for us,” he said. “When somebody sees a patrol car on the side of the road with the lights on, their behavior changes.”

He said the decision to either ticket or warn a speeding driver comes at the discretion of a trooper. McClure said in some cases, a warning can be just as useful as a ticket.

“We get those messages later on that, ‘hey this trooper stopped me one time and he could have given me a ticket,’ ” McClure described. “ ‘But he didn’t. Instead, he gave me a pretty heartfelt talk of, hey, you’re needed at home. You’re needed at school, or wherever you work. We want you to get there safely. So just slow down.’ ”

While some drivers say they might already be going the speed limit when they spot a trooper on the side of the road, they agree the presence of law enforcement might have an impact on drivers who might not be driving so cautiously.

”I would definitely say seeing an officer on the side of the road does cause them to slow down,” West said. “If not on the side of the road, driving in front or behind them, because they’re there. So drive carefully.”

Troop D launched 34 education programs, 6 live radio programs and thousands of recorded radio public service announcements through June. Highway Patrol also conducted several special enforcement projects.

From January through the beginning of September, Troop D completed 2 seat belt operations, 11 Hazardous Moving Violation Saturations, 10 DWI Saturations resulting in 53 DWI arrests, 49 drug/warrant arrests, 296 seat belt arrests, 6 child restraint arrests, 1,260 total arrests and 2,306 warnings issued.

McClure said Troop D also collaborated with the Springfield Police Department. He said motorcycle units from the MSHP and SPD have worked together on three 2-hour shifts on U.S. 65, within the city limits of Springfield, enforcing excessive speeding. Troop D reports that those efforts have led to 133 traffic stops with 80 speeding citations issued. McClure said most of those were over 75 mph in a 60 mph zone.

”[It] was very successful,” he said. “Hope we can continue that because that really changed the behavior on morning commutes on 65, within the city limits of Springfield. That’s good to see. That’s been a racetrack, so to speak.”

Troop D reports that Greene County has the most fatal crashes, accounting for roughly 25.5% of those wrecks. Greene County also has the most injury crashes within Troop D, accounting for slightly more than 42%, or 1,265 out of 3,008 crashes.

Highway Patrol also says state numbered roads account for a little more than 37% of the fatalities and U.S. roadways account for just shy of 16% of fatalities.

McClure said Troop D still has work to do, and will continue to focus efforts on those leading causes.

“We can do more, but it’s going to be everybody working together to drive courteously,” he said.

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