HELENA – The Montana Highway Patrol released its annual report for 2018 several weeks ago.
Seat belt use was on the rise in 2018 and the number of fatalities was at its lowest point in nearly 30 years.
Last year marked the fewest number of crashes since 2015 in which no fatalities occurred within the first seven months of the year.
During July, that figure changes, since it has been the deadliest month on Montana roads for the past four years.
“In the summer, because the conditions are good, we may get a little more relaxed when we shouldn’t be,” MHP Capt. Chad Dever explained. “And as a result, we’re not noticing curves. We’re not noticing vehicles turning or stopping in front of us. And then we crash.”
Inattentive driving is the leading contributing circumstance in all crashes, so Dever advises drivers to put down their phones and practice defensive driving at all times.
Driving under the influence is a serious contributing circumstance in fatal crashes this year, with 70 fatal crashes involving the presence of drugs and 72 the presence of alcohol.
Dever advised preparing ahead of time in order to avoid driving under the influence of alcohol: “Make it part of your plan to get a ride home if you know there’s going to be alcohol involved.”
One positive takeaway from the report is the increased usage of seat belts. According to the State Highway Traffic Safety Bureau, seat belt use is at an all-time high, topping 86 percent in 2018. In 2017, seat belt usage was at 78 percent.
Colonel Tom Butler, the chief of the Montana Highway Patrol, said in a preface to the report:
Although this report is filled with a myriad of statistics and data, some of the most important data deals with fatal crashes, overall crashes, and enforcement in critical crash contributing areas. In 2018, 182 people lost their lives on Montana roadways as a result of vehicle crashes. While this number is viewed by our agency and me as unacceptable, we continue to see a downward trend in traffic fatalities over the last four years and we will continue to work diligently to continue this trend. 2018 data suggests “Driving Under the Influence” as a serious contributing circumstance in fatal crashes. Other major contributing factors in fatal crashes include: “Reckless Driving,” “Inattentive Driving,” and “Driving Too Fast for Conditions.” The Montana Highway Patrol sees these critical areas as a high priority for enforcement and going forward, these enforcement areas will continue to be targeted.
-Lindsie Hiatt reporting for MTN News