MHP Reports Decrease In Fatal Crashes
By James Walling
According to figures released by the Montana Highway Patrol, vehicle crashes involving single or multiple fatalities fell by one in 2019 compared to 2018, bringing the total for the year to 167. The figures show that last year's death toll spiked dramatically in the summer months. As of Memorial Day, fatalities on Montana highways were comparable to 2018, but by October, 2019's count was up by 23 crashes.
Thanksgiving and Christmas were less deadly than 2018, evening out the totals for the year. Weather is often a factor impacting the number of holiday incidents and crashes.
Alcohol was a suspected factor in 39.5 percent of highway deaths in 2019, down slightly from 40.1 percent in 2018. The 2019 number is higher than 2017’s 32.8 percent.
Drugs were suspected in 61 deaths - that’s one in three overall for 2019. Alcohol was a suspected factor in 73 deaths.
Two categories of crashes saw considerable increases. Out-of-state vehicles were involved in 51 fatalities (up from 37 in 2018) and commercial vehicle crashes resulted in 23 deaths (up from 14).
The number if fatalities in which seatbelts weren’t employed decreased from 92 in 2018 to 76, a decrease of 17 percent. Fifty people died in crashes in which seatbelts were used. There was also a decrease in fatalities involving excessive speed. The number of speed-related fatal accidents diminished from 76 to 47 over the past four years, with the MHP figures showing steady declines every year beginning in 2015. Speeding was the reported cause of 40 percent of all highway fatalities in 2019.
The largest increases in traffic deaths occurred in the Butte and Glendive districts, which raised from 16-25 and 17-23 respectively. The most significant decreases were tallied in the Great Falls, Bozeman and Billings districts.
MHP Sgt. Jeff Kent told the
Northern Plains Independent that he has observed a general decrease in fatalities during his 20 years on the job.
“It’s great to see the numbers go down,” said Kent. “But in a community like Northeast Montana, every fatal is tragic. Every fatal has a family and friends.” Kent said drivers should be responsible and use good time management.
“Don’t be in a hurry,' said Kent. “If you don’t get in a rush and make sure your vehicle is in good working order, your chances of avoiding an accident are good.'