SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Wrecks around the Queen City this year have become increasingly fatal. More people died on Springfield’s streets so far in 2012 than all of last year.
Randy McCafferty, a driver for Henry’s Towing, isn’t surprised. For 24 years, he’s responded to every kind of traffic crash.
“Driving is a full time 100 percent job and if you are distracted, sometimes you make wrong decisions at the split second that cost people their lives,” said McCafferty. “Seats up against the dash, steering wheels up against the roof, floor boards completely buckled where there’s no leg room whatsoever where you can’t even get your hand in between them. I’ve seen pretty bad stuff.”
Although the wrecked cars eventually are towed away, for McCafferty, the memories remain.
“I can remember the first fatality accident I ever worked, like it happened yesterday,” explained McCafferty. “It sticks with you for a long time.”
Speed, seat belt usage, and drunk driving are some of the factors for fatalities.
“Deaths and injuries from traffic crashes are preventable,” said Pam Holt, trauma and injury prevention supervisor with Mercy Hospital. “63 percent of the people who died this year in Missouri in traffic crashes where unbuckled. Just a simple thing that can take 3 seconds can save a life.”
The simple concept can be hard to grasp. According to the latest research by the Missouri Safety Center, in Springfield, teens spotted at Parkview High School are the worst in the city for not buckling up. Central High School students are a close second.
“A common myth I hear, is ‘well I’m driving in town, it’s safer.’ But really when you are driving in town, you are in more danger because people are coming at you at right angles, there’s a lot of oncoming traffic,” explained Holt. “When you are on the interstate or the highway, all the traffic is running parallel. You are going in the same direction.”
Some age groups don’t have that kind of reasoning. In 2011, out of all people taken to Mercy Hospital because of a traffic crash, 10-14 year-olds were the worst. Only 33 percent were bucked up. 15-19 year-olds were second, with 41 percent using seat belts. Reversely, those in the 85-94 age range were the best with seat belts. 86 percent wore the safety restraints.
Sometimes though, the traffic crashes aren’t the victim’s fault.
“A lot of the people who were injured or killed were not the person who was speeding. They were hit by that other irresponsible driver. So you can be the safest driver on the road, but the other person may not be,” detailed Holt.
“We’ve seen a lot of unfortunate fatality crashes,” said Mandy Buttgen, senior engineering technician with Springfield Public Works. “A lot of people who were at the wrong place at the wrong time, then some of them were speed, alcohol impairment, things like that. A lot of them really were unnecessary.”
Alcohol is a major factor for fatalities in Springfield.
“Last year, 8 out of 12 deaths were from alcohol. It’s 2/3 of those fatality crashes were due to alcohol and drug abuse and that’s really absolutely not necessary,” Buttgen said firmly. “Only drive soberly. Alcohol and drugs are huge contributors to the fatalities we’ve seen.”
“With alcohol, you don’t feel the effect it’s having on you until you are so far gone. It impairs your nervous system. It impairs our ability to know that you are okay to drive. So you think you are okay to drive but the reality is, after just one drink, it’s not okay to get behind the wheel,” she said. “It’s every driver’s responsibility when they are on the road to keep me in mind. My family in mind, your family in mind, and drive responsibility. Slow down, put your seat belt on, drive sober, and take care of everybody else who is on the road with you.”