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Traffic Crashes


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Traffic Crashes

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Why This Measure?

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of all deaths resulting from injury. Aside from pain and loss, there are huge health and economic impacts associated with crashes. Traffic crashes happen for a variety of reasons, most of which have to do with people rather than engineering or environmental conditions. The vast majority of the injuries and deaths are not acts of fate, but are predictable and preventable.

How Are We Doing?

Traffic crashes in Missoula County continue to rise along with the increase in population and vehicle miles traveled. The State Traffic Safety Bureau’s Traffic Safety Problem Identification Report has ranked Missoula County as number one in the State for severe injury crashes (those involving a fatality or incapacitating injury) each year since 1994. Of the 2,217 crashes reported in 1997, 224 were classified as "severe" crashes. In comparison, Yellowstone County ranked second in the state for severe injury crashes in 1997 with a total of 139. Key contributing factors: speed too fast for conditions, failure to yield the right of way, and impaired (alcohol, drugs, etc.) driving.

Trend Slightly Worse Data Rating    Available    Reliable     Relevant

Source: Montana Traffic Safety Bureau, MDOT

Over the past decade, there has been a dramatic decline in alcohol involvement in crashes in Missoula County. Of the 2,294 traffic crashes reported in Missoula County during 1998, 217 (9%) involved alcohol compared to 1987 when 18% of reported crashes involved alcohol.

 BAC: The average BAC of persons arrested for DUI in Missoula County during 1998 was .17 -- a significant improvement over the .22 average BAC of those arrested for DUI in Missoula County throughout 1991 and 1992.

Refusals: During 1998, 24% of those arrested for DUI in Missoula County refused to have their BAC measured at time of arrest. The refusal rate in Missoula County during the early 90's ran right around 35%.

Public Support of DUI Enforcement: Over 96% of respondents to a 1996 State Traffic Safety Public Opinion Survey responded "yes" when asked if they support strict law enforcemnt of DUI.

Promising strategies to reduce the number of traffic crashes, as well as the DUI problem, include: Strategic Enforcement Patrols; We Share the Road, Missoula—a Missoula Traffic Safety Task Force public information campaign; Crashes Aren’t Accidents—a National Highway Traffic Safety Advisory public information campaign; and the SoBear University of Montana Designated Driver Program. 

Seat Belts


Combination lap and shoulder belt systems reduce the chance of serious injury or death in a crash by about 50%; lap belts alone by about 35%. In 1994, 78% of the motor vehicle occupants killed in traffic crashes in the county were not buckled up.

Kids and Cars

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Montana children from 1 to 15 years old. In Montana during 1997 (the latest year for which complete data is available) one child was killed and an additional 90 children injured each month in a motor crash (Montana Kids Count, Healthy Mothers/Healthy Babies, 1999). Nationally, 4 out of 5 child safety seats are used wrong. Almost 98% of the child safety seats checked at ongoing Safety Seat Inspection Clinics held for the past two years in Missoula and surrounding communities were being used incorrectly.

In addition to ongoing Child Safety Seat Inspection Clinics held from Spring through Fall in Missoula and surrounding communities, promising developments include upgrading of the State Child Passenger Safety Law, Strategic Enforcement Patrols, State Child Occupant Protection Plan (COPP) Task Force (5 members from Missoula), and increased accessibility to NHTSA’s Standardized Child Passenger Safety Training Program (4 day course) for EMTs, law enforcement personnel, child safety seat retailers, and other professionals in the field.

Teens and Cars

Montana has the highest rate of teen traffic fatalities in the nation: 49.9 per 100,000 population compared to the national average of 31 (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1998). Traffic crashes are the number one cause of death for youth. The crash rate per mile for teenagers is four times higher than for adults. Teens are allowed to get licenses at an early age with little driving experience. In 42 states, the minimum driver age is at least 16: in Montana, it is 15 (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, 1995).

During 1997, Montana drivers between 15 and 20 years of age were involved in 129 crashes per thousand licensed drivers. Each higher age group had fewer crashes per licensed driver than the previous. For each year between 15 and 20, the rate improves, which tends to support that lack of driving experience is a strong factor in teen traffic crashes—a stronger factor than alcohol (Montana Traffic Safety Bureau’s Traffic Safety Problem Identification Report, 1998).

Speed Kills

Crash severity increases proportionally based on the speed of vehicle at impact. Because of this, the chances of being killed or seriously injured doubles for every 10 miles per hour over 50. The benefits of occupant protection devices, such as seat belts and child seats, diminish as the speed of a vehicle increases (NHTSA).


Bicycle Crashes

Montana is doing pretty good in the number of bicycle crashes, compared to the national average: In Montana, 1% of crashes involve bikes. Nationwide, 2% of crashes involve bicycles. However, more Montana children are involved in bicycle crashes than the national average.   Any guesses as to why over 80% of bicycle injuries and fatalities involve male bicyclists? Males have a higher rate of pedestrian/vehicle collisions, too. They make up over 2/3 of the pede

The new bike lanes are intended to serve as a visible reminder to both motorists and bicyclists that bikes belong on the road. However, bicyclists must still follow the same rules as motor vehicles. Even in a bike lane, bikes must go in the same direction as traffic and obey all traffic control devices.

  • Motorists may not park in bike lanes, and are expected to stay out of bike lanes except when accessing parking spaces, driveways, streets or alleys.
  • Bike lanes are not for pedestrians---they belong on the sidewalk.
  • Roller blades and skate boards are not legally vehicles, so therefore cannot use bike lanes or traffic lanes.
  • Bicyclists are not required to use bike lanes. They may use any portion of the roadway. Most of our streets do not have specific bikeway designations.
  • When planning to make a left turn, bicyclists must leave the bike lane well in advance.
  • Although there are may bike routes, and some roads have specific bike lanes, we must all share the road respectfully.



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