So far this year, 167 people have died from crashes on Montana roads. That terrible statistic should motivate all drivers to take holiday travel safety to heart. The saddest part of Montana’s highway death toll is that the tragedies are preventable. Every driver has the power to prevent crashing and to significantly reduce the risk of serious injury or death in the event of a crash.

The same old culprits continue to figure prominently in Montana Highway Patrol crash information. MHP investigators suspect:

  • 57 deaths involved alcohol
  • 50 deaths involved other drugs
  • 61 deaths involved speed
  • 76 deaths involved lack of seat belt use

Of course, some highway deaths involved more than one of those factors. Drivers using alcohol and other drugs are less likely to obey speed restrictions (or drive at speeds appropriate for conditions) and impaired drivers probably don’t think to use a seat belt.

So the first safety rule is: Don’t drive drunk or high. Don’t get into a vehicle with a driver you suspect is impaired. Don’t let your friends or relatives drive under the influence of drugs and stop people you care about from riding with impaired drivers.

Let’s celebrate sober designated drivers and make sure they get support to get everyone home safely.

The importance of drivers being sober and in control of their vehicle is reflected in another MHP statistic: Among 167 people who died, 101 were killed by single-vehicle crashes. Multiple-vehicle crashes can be deadly, too. But in Montana most of the worst crashes involve just one car or pickup running off the road and the victim being thrown out as the vehicle rolls. If just one driver had been sober and alert, watched his speed and insisted that all occupants use seat belts, lives would have been saved.

There is a glimmer of hope in these terrible highway numbers: As of Monday, fewer deaths had been recorded compared to this point in 2016 (181) or 2015 (203). The trend is positive, but 167 deaths is still 167 too many.

When MHP breaks down the fatalities by patrol districts, 2017 is shaping up as a better year for the Billings district, which includes Yellowstone and surrounding counties. There have been 26 traffic fatalities in 2017, compared with 39 last year and 37 the year before. The Billings district saw the biggest decrease in fatalities, yet it still had more fatalities than six other MHP districts. Butte also has 26 fatalities so far.

Let’s face it: The Billings area has lots of road miles, heavy traffic and a large population center with many alcohol/drug abusers. To keep Montana's highway death toll from climbing, every one of us needs to drive defensively, which means staying sober and buckled in behind the wheel on every trip for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s and the rest of the year.