Driving Deaths Remain High in Montana

By Beacon Staff

Entering the final days of 2012, the number of statewide motor vehicle traffic deaths is on pace to be slightly below last year, according to statistics from the Montana Highway Patrol.

This year there have been 200 traffic fatalities reported in Montana through last weekend. There were 209 deaths in 2011.

Highway patrol data over the past six years reflects a fluctuating situation in a state that has more public road miles than there are interstate miles in the entire country.

Since 2007, when there were 276 driving deaths statewide, the number of fatalities has declined every year except 2011. There were 189 deaths in 2010, which was the lowest total since 1989, when there were 181.

The number of fatalities in Flathead County has seen a change in recent years. Since 2006, when 30 people died driving in the Flathead, the figures have fallen every year except last. There were nine in 2010 and 13 in 2011. This year’s Montana Highway Patrol Annual Report has not been officially compiled yet.

On a nationwide scale, motor vehicle fatalities have been on a strong downward trend since 2005 and reached the lowest total in more than 60 years last year, according to an annual report released recently by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Last year 32,367 people died in driving accidents in the U.S., the lowest total since 1949. This was nearly 2 percent lower than in 2010.

Alcohol-related deaths overall dropped 2.5 percent nationwide in 2011. In Montana last year, the number of people killed in DUI-related crashes was 94.

The three factors that contribute to the most fatal crashes in Montana remain driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, failure to wear a seat belt and speeding.

Motorcyclists, bicyclists and large truck drivers remain at the highest risk out of vehicle occupants. The number of drivers killed while operating large trucks like semitrailers rose 20 percent in 2011. Bicycle deaths rose 8.7 percent. Motorcycle deaths rose 2 percent.