HELENA — The Montana Highway Patrol says the number of fatal crashes on the state’s roads spiked in 2020.
Through Dec. 28, MHP reported 184 fatal crashes and 207 deaths, up from 165 crashes and 183 deaths in the same period last year. That was a roughly 12% increase year to year.
The large jump comes after three years of relatively stable crash numbers.
Leaders said what particularly concerns them is the number of risk factors that contributed to these crashes. In 2020, the number of crashes where troopers determined excessive speed played a role rose by more than 23%. Those linked to alcohol and drugs rose by 32% and 17% respectively.
“It just never mixes well when you mix alcohol and drugs and driving,” said MHP Sgt. Jay Nelson.
One of the biggest changes involved seat belt use. In 71 deadly crashes this year, MHP has confirmed someone wasn’t wearing a seat belt. That’s up from 51 cases last year – a 40% increase.
“That’s a significant number,” Nelson said. “That’s not just a fluctuation – more people, driving faster, not wearing their seatbelts on the interstate, that possibly are using drugs and alcohol when they get behind the wheel.”
This year, more of the fatal crashes occurred on Montana’s interstates – 36, compared to 22 in 2019. Rural roads also saw more crashes, while fewer happened in urban areas.
Nelson said even one fatality on the roads is too many, and these numbers are alarming. He urged drivers to remember the small steps that can go a long way to reducing the risk.
“These fatalities affect so many people and their families,” he said. “Nobody goes out on the interstate or onto primary roadways wanting to be involved in a fatality crash. Think of those family members when you’ve had alcohol to drink or drugs or don’t click that seatbelt. It’s very easy to get in a ride with somebody, click your seatbelt on, and slow down.”
Of MHP’s eight districts, five reported more deadly crashes in 2020 than 2019. The largest increase was in the Great Falls District, which covers Cascade, Fergus, Golden Valley, Judith Basin, Musselshell, Petroleum, Teton and Wheatland Counties. Those counties had a total of 19 fatal crashes this year, up from just nine the year before.