Deadly crashes up nearly 20 percent in US, Mississippi Highway Patrol working to reduce distracted driving

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI) – A new study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows a nearly 20 percent increase in traffic deaths during the first half of 2021.

According to traffic statistics, 20,160 people have died in crashes so far, compared to 17,020 through the first half of 2020.

More drivers on the road means a higher chance for traffic accidents and deadly crashes.

According to the NHTSA, they haven’t been that high in 15 years.

“If you factor in speeding, distracted driving, not wearing a seatbelt, driving under the influence, that chance for that fatality is going to increase,” says Sgt. Derrick Beckom with Mississippi Highway Patrol.

One theory is that drivers got away with some of those dangerous habits thanks to less crowded roads during the early days of the pandemic.

“Traffic is heavier now than last year because of COVID,” Sgt. Beckom says. “People are out and able to move around a little bit more now.”

Mississippi has the second-highest fatality rate in the country, at 31.24 per 100 thousand licensed drivers, per NHTSA.

Sgt. Beckom says distracted is a major reason for that, especially in the more rural areas of the Golden Triangle.

“With the winding roads and time change, getting a little bit darker earlier, you need to be paying attention to your driving at all times,” he says.

Sgt. Beckom says that kind of rise in deadly crashes is something MHP takes personally, adding that they are constantly out on patrol or at checkpoints to make sure drivers know they are watching.

“A trooper may be assigned to a certain highway and he may just patrol that highway for several hours throughout his shift,” he says. “Making sure there’s visibility along that roadway.”

And with Holiday travel season fast approaching, the sergeant says to expect state troopers to work even harder.

“We don’t want to have that tragedy of having to tell a family that a family member is not going to make it home safe for the holidays,” he says.

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