Bad Drivers

Recently, a car-insurance study ranked us the worst drivers in the country

By Kellyn Brown

A coworker of mine’s vehicle was dented in our parking lot by another coworker’s vehicle last week. The next day a teenager slammed into the same vehicle while this same coworker was driving to work. The air bags deployed, and his sedan may be totaled.

He’s OK, but this is the same coworker who earlier this year was hit by a car at a crosswalk while riding his bike to work. That accident sent him to the hospital. Also, I’m not making this up, this same coworker was forced off a rural road west of Kalispell and had to get his vehicle towed out of a ditch not even a month ago.

That’s a lot of vehicle accidents over the course of one calendar year. He’s lucky none of his bones broke, or worse. His plight made me reread a few recent stories about Montana’s driving habits – a common theme among them is that we are bad behind the wheel. I once scoffed at that idea, but not so much anymore

Like nearly everyone, I’ve always considered myself a good driver. However, on a recent trip to Calgary, Alberta, a passenger in my car disputed that notion. There are some good views between here and there, and I tended to look at those instead of the road in front of me.

I’m a mostly cautious driver, which, I’ve also been told, doesn’t make me a good one. My tentativeness is especially poorly suited for large cities, like Calgary or Seattle, where I tend to miss exits and drive in circles. I must have picked up some of these bad habits in Montana, because this state’s driving statistics are scary.

Recently, a car-insurance study ranked us the worst drivers in the country. This was not an anomaly. The same study ranked us the worst in the country last year, too.

The rankings, compiled by carinsurancecomparison.com, factored in several categories, from drunken driving to speeding. We rated poorly in all of them, and first in fatality rate. Tyler Spraul, who directed the study for the website, told USA Today, “Montana has the potentially deadly combination of high speed limits and severe winter weather that could really be driving up fatality rates.”

Many locals are familiar with dangerous drivers and hairy stretches of highway. The length of U.S. Highway 93 that winds through the Flathead often has the highest number of crashes of any primary rural corridor in the state. In the late ‘90s, a common slogan was, “Pray for me, I drive Highway 93.”

Plenty of efforts have been made to improve safety, especially by law enforcement. Last year, Montana Department of Transportation Director Mike Tooley launched a state initiative, “Vision Zero,” aimed at shaking Montana’s dubious reputation as a dangerous place to drive. But the laws, or lack of laws, are stacked against him.

In another measurement of Montana’s driving habits, the Washington D.C.-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety gave Montana a failing grade in its annual report on highway safety laws. The reason: our state has no primary seatbelt law, all-rider motorcycle helmet law, booster seat law, ignition interlock law, or all driver text messaging restriction. Proposals to add statewide restrictions have gained little traction at the Legislature. Some cities, like Whitefish and Columbia Falls, ban cell phone use while driving. Others, like Kalispell, don’t.

Combine the lax rules with inclement weather and animals wandering onto roadways and a heavy-drinking population, and there’s bound to be some bad driving, even if we don’t think we’re as bad as people think. In fact, the state just raised the speed limit on interstates from 75 mph to 80 mph. Go figure.

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