Montana Receives Worst Rating for Highway Safety

By Beacon Staff

On the heels of one of its worst years in a decade involving highway fatalities, Montana received a failing grade from a national nonprofit group in its annual report on highway safety laws.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, an organization based in Washington D.C., last week released its 11th annual report card grading all 50 states on their traffic laws. Montana was among 11 states that rated as the worst in the U.S. for adopting “lifesaving” laws involving adult and child occupant protection, impaired and distracted driving and teen driving.

The group scrutinized Montana for not having a front and rear primary seat belt law, all-rider motorcycle helmet law, booster seat law, an ignition interlock law and an all-driver text messaging restriction.

Montana and Arizona were tied for the lowest score in the latest report card, which drew from 2012 crash data.

There were 228 highway fatalities in Montana in 2013, 23 more than 2012, according to the finalized annual report from the Montana Highway Patrol, released Jan. 27.

Of last year’s deaths, 188 involved someone not wearing a seat belt, 21 more than the previous year, according to the state. Motorcyclists accounted for 34 deaths, four more than the previous year.

The Kalispell district, encompassing Flathead, Lake and Lincoln counties, tied with the Billings district for the most fatalities in the state with 40.

In the group’s report, Montana fell into the lowest ranking along with Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire North and South Dakota and Wyoming.

“It is time for state elected officials to get in the driver’s seat and lead the way to safer roads,” said Joan Claybrook, consumer co-chair of advocate group.

After six consecutive years of declining fatalities across the nation, traffic deaths increased in 2012 by 3.3 percent.

“This alarming shift is a stark reminder that states must continue to pass and enforce strong, comprehensive highway safety laws,” said Jacqueline Gillan, president of the AHAS.

Gillan pointed out that progress has been made to raise awareness and implement safety laws aimed at reducing traffic deaths. For example, 25 years ago only six states had a primary enforcement seat belt law, which allows officers to pull over a driver for not wearing a seat belt. Today 33 states have a primary seat belt law covering front seat passengers.

“The progress we have made in achieving a 26 percent fatality reduction from 1989 shows that when states take action to enact and enforce optimal traffic safety laws, lives are saved, injuries are reduced, and costs to society are contained,” Gillan said.

Motorcycle rider deaths continues to climb to record numbers, according to the AHAS. There were 10 times as many unhelmeted motorcyclist fatalities in states without all-rider helmet laws than in states with those laws, according to the group.

“The tragic and life-altering consequences of motor vehicle crashes are predictable and preventable,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

Read the report online.