Summer is the deadliest season on Montana highways. More fatal motor vehicle crashes occur in the warm, busy travel season than on snowpacked and icy winter roads.
However, with two months of summer gone, there are fewer fatalities in 2014 than at the same point in 2013 and 2012.
As of Monday, the Montana Highway Patrol had counted 99 fatalities so far this year. Terrible as that toll is, it was worse last year with 118 in late July and 117 in 2012.
The number of motorcycle fatalities decreased from 15 by this time last year to eight so far this year. Likewise, the number of pedestrian deaths has been reduced from nine last year to five. One bicyclist was killed this year, although none had been by this time last year.
Most traffic deaths involve vehicle occupants, and the most common factor among those deaths is lack of seat belt use. Based on MHP data, among 85 vehicle occupants killed this year, 65 weren’t wearing seat belts. That’s 76 percent of fatal injuries suffered by motorists who weren’t buckled up. In 2012, 72 percent of fatally injured vehicle occupants weren’t using seat belts.
Folks who forego seat belts are probably tired of hearing this, but it bears repeating: The minority of Montanans who fail to use seat belts account for the majority of fatal injuries.
Preliminary MHP data also indicates that alcohol use was a factor in at least 27 highway deaths so far this year. When the Montana Department of Transportation analyzes lab reports from all annual deaths, the proportion of fatalities related to alcohol will climb. Alcohol use isn’t always evident at the crash site.
Much as Montanans must hope that our state is on course for a much safer year, nothing can be taken for granted. Last week was a terrible week with eight highway deaths reported, including one pedestrian and two deaths in which MHP found alcohol to be a factor. Speed was a factor in one death last week.
Even when daytime skies are clear and roads are dry, speed, alcohol and lack of seat belts kill. The best route for a safe trip is always to stay sober, alert and buckled up.