MOUNT VERNON, Mo. -

Officials are trying to find out if several recent semi-truck crashes along Interstate 44 are a coincidence or a new cause for concern.  Nothing appears to be out of the ordinary on I-44 at Exit 46.  It’s a busy highway with wide-open lanes that are as straight as an arrow.

“It’s got smooth pavement;  it’s got guard cable in the center line; it’s got guard rail and it’s got rumble strips along the edges as well to alert drivers when they are leaving the surface,” said Missouri Department of Transportation assistant district engineer Andy Mueller.   “It does have all of the safety features that are available for us to use, from an engineering perspective.”

Those safety features haven’t been enough to stop several semi-trucks from plunging off the highway in recent weeks.  MoDOT says it’s never been a problem before.  In fact, crash numbers from before 2013 reveal a pretty safe segment.

“When we look at all of I-44 and the average crash rate of Interstate 44, this section of roadway, the crash rate is actually about 50 percent less than the average we have been seeing,” Mueller said.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol says it has just received some updated numbers from local officials.  Spokesman Sgt. Jason Pace says it appears there has been an increase in semi crashes at this spot in recent weeks, but almost all of the wrecks have been attributed to things like driver error, inattention, and fatigue.  None of the crashes have been attributed to the highway itself.

So: why this particular spot, and why now?  They’re questions MoDOT hopes to answer in the coming days.  

“Sometimes crashes to occur in clusters. And when that happens we always take a special look at that to see if something is going on or if it is just coincidence,” said Mueller.  “We will be taking a closer look to see if there is something unique going on at this spot.”

MoDOT says it’ll continue to have crews at the site in the coming days, testing things like the pavement and lines of sight.  Safety teams have already visited the spot, and have not been able to find anything hazardous.

MoDOT says it encourages the public to report any safety concerns they may have with any roadway, and the agency will investigate it.