St. Joseph appears to be heading in the right direction.

One of the biggest kudos the St. Joseph Police Department received last year was the low number of traffic fatalities in the city.

There was just one fatal in 2016, the lowest total in at least the past 15 years. With the number of crash-related deaths increasing throughout the state, the Police Department has been working the past several years to keep that number low.

Last year showed that some of what they have been doing has worked. 

"It's something we're very proud of," said traffic unit Sgt. Chris McBane. "We worked really hard last year on increasing our traffic-safety awareness, and targeting specific areas where we have more traffic crashes as a whole. It was nice to see that our whole hard work kind of had a pay off to it."

The police want the number to be zero. McBane said the top two reasons for fatalities are alcohol and no seat-belt use. Having no seat belt is a secondary law, meaning the police can't pull you over for it, but they can write a summons if they stop you for a different violation.

Still, the police are out trying to warn people about the dangers of not wearing a seat belt.

From March 15 to 31, the police will have extra enforcement out for a youth seat-belt program that targets students. They'll be out before and after school looking for teenagers and encouraging them to buckle up.

"It's a problem with everybody," McBane said. "Missouri is ranked 41st in the nation in seat-belt use, so Missouri's seat-belt use is lower than the national seat-belt-use average. Buchanan County's seat-belt-use average is lower than the Missouri state seat-belt-use average. We're behind the curve ball.

"You've got to be buckled in. Your air bag is only designed to protect you if you're in the seat where you're supposed to be. The only thing that's going to keep you there is your seat belt."

McBane added not wearing a seat belt was a factor in more than half of the fatalities over the past five years. With that said, the department still believes alcohol plays just as much of a role. 

And with that in mind, the police will begin more checkpoints staring this month. McBane said they'll do one or two a month now that it's a warmer outside.

Last year, the only fatality in the city was when a pedestrian was struck on Interstate 229. Alcohol was a factor.

And there has been a traffic fatality already this year, though alcohol was not involved. An elderly woman suffered a medical condition that forced her to pass out. She struck a tree and died because of the injuries.

"It's always been our goal to decrease traffic crashes as a whole," McBane said. "Especially fatalities."

Thomas Huitt-Johnson can be reached at thomas.hj@newspressnow.com.

Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPTHJ.

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