Fewer Motorists Were Killed in Accidents in 2008

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – An annual report by the Montana Highway Patrol shows a significant drop in the number of motorists killed last year compared to 2007.

The number of driving deaths fell from 276 in 2007 to 229 in 2008 — a decrease of more than 17 percent.

Col. Michael Tooley of the Patrol says the results were “the best news we’ve had in a long time.”

But he says that for the first time in recent years, cell phone use was found to have contributed to four fatal crashes. Not since 2004 has the report noted a traffic death related to cell phone use, and there was one such incident in that year.

Investigators have begun checking phone records if they suspect a cell phone played a role in an accident — which Tooley says may account, in part, for the increase. He also says the increase may reflect that more people are sending or reading text messages while driving.

Tooley says the number of deaths statewide resulting from drunken driving fell from 85 in 2007 to 46 last year. The number of motorists injured in crashes last year was 8,431 — a drop of 8.5 percent from 2007.

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