While driving back and forth to Jefferson City, as well as around Newton County, I am reminded of how beautiful springtime is in our area. I am also reminded of how fortunate we are to live and work in Southwest Missouri and of the responsibility that each of us have as citizens to help keep our area beautiful by properly disposing of our trash as well as being respectful and courteous while traveling our state’s highways and roads.
The month of April is Missouri’s annual No MOre Trash! Bash campaign that, basically, is spring cleaning of Missouri’s outdoors. As part of their anti-litter campaign efforts, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT), sponsor the Trash Bash. Missourians are encouraged to help clean up litter from roadways, parks, rivers and streams across the state, as well as conduct educational efforts in schools to help make Missouri students aware of the responsibility all residents have to keep our state clean.
MODOT spends approximately $6 million annually to remove litter from 385,000 acres of road right-of-ways along its 34,000 miles of state highway. Numerous organizations volunteer to help in these efforts to pick up trash discarded by motorists, trash that flies out of the back of vehicles, or trash that is dumped. In 2014, more than 1,200 groups with over 14,000 volunteers assisted in these cleanup efforts, collecting many truckloads of trash. In addition, 157 educational events were held to encourage individuals not to litter. Many state residents participate in our Adopt-A-Highway and Stream Team programs. The Stream Team, with its many volunteers, removed a staggering 688 tons of litter from waterways, donating approximately $3.4 million worth of volunteer time statewide. Every individual has a personal responsibility to properly dispose of his or her own trash and not to contribute to a thoughtless and ugly problem.
Springtime is also the time of year when road projects begin all over the state. The week of March 23 -27 was the observance of National Work Zone Awareness Week, and drivers are reminded to slow down and pay attention as they pass through work zones. The number one contributor to work zone accidents is driving too closely behind a vehicle; second is driver inattention.
Highway construction workers make every effort to work safely, but they are counting on motorists, not only to pay close attention while passing through a work zone, but to slow down and use caution. Missouri’s state law has the “Slow Down and Mover Over” requirement for roadways, requiring drivers to slow down and change lanes, if possible, when approaching stopped MoDOT work vehicles and law enforcement or other emergency vehicles with flashing lights. Drivers should definitely slow down when they encounter these situations, even if they cannot move over because of other traffic.
Safety is a very important matter, and especially in work zones. In 2014, seven people were killed in work zone crashes on state highways, and two additional people were killed in local work area crashes, bringing the state total to nine. Forty-six people were killed in work zone crashes along state highways from 2010 to 2014, and an additional seven lost their lives in local area work zones. In that same four-year period, 2,614 people were injured in work zones statewide, and 733 were injured in local work areas. Obviously, this is a serious situation. Since 2000, MoDOT has lost sixteen of their employees to such accidents.
Whether a work zone accident or one on the roadway, the best line of defense for vehicle occupants in any accident is to wear a seatbelt. In 2014, 62% of fatalities of occupants in vehicles were not doing so. Statistics for the last three years show that amongst adults, seven out of ten vehicle occupants in Missouri’s traffic crashes were not wearing their seatbelts. Among teenagers, eight of every ten killed were unbuckled. Teens are most likely to follow their parents’ example when buckling up. Parents, please remember to be good examples and make the right safe choice when you are driving or riding in vehicles on the road.
Finally, impaired driving—drinking and driving—is a lethal combination. Any Missouri person who causes a fatal crash while intoxicated can be charged with involuntary manslaughter, a felony resulting in up to seven years in prison, a five thousand dollar fine, or both. Even seven years in prison and $5,000 is a very small price to pay in exchange for someone’s loved one’s life. Please remember that if you are going to drink, don’t drive.