JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - The number of highway deaths in Missouri is up.
According to the Missouri Department of Transportation, there have already been about 70 deaths on Missouri highways. The same time last year, there were 56. That is a 23 percent increase.
"Certainly we want to see that number start to go back down," Lt. John Hotz with the Missouri State Highway Patrol said. "It's up this year. It's early in the year, but still when we see that number go up that starts to concern us."
The top three causes of deadly crashes are drivers not paying attention to the road, speeding and drunk driving, Hotz said.
"We've had a pretty mild winter as far as the Midwest area here," Hotz said. "We haven't had a lot of snow. So we see a lot of traffic out. We've also seen several motorcycles out. In fact, we've already had four or five motorcyclists killed in crashes this year. And I think as gas prices we go down, we have more people driving. I think that certainly can add to the problem as well."
Each troop of the highway patrol faces different issues for deadly crashes, Hotz said. For example, metro areas may have more problems with road rage and following too closely, while rural areas may have more problems with vehicles passing one another on the highway. But in all region of the state, Hotz said one thing is key.
"Seat belts is such a critical role," Hotz said. "If you look at the number of people killed this year, about 73 percent of them were not wearing seat belts. And so your chances of surviving that crash go down significantly if you're not properly restrained."
Five out of seven people who have died in Mid-Missouri crashes this year were not wearing seat belts, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol crash reports.
In 2014, there were 754 total highway fatalities in the state. The Missouri Strategic Highway Safety Plan has a goal to reduce highway deaths down to 700 or fewer in 2016.