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Missoula Measures - Traffic Crashes


Why this topic?

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, including the life time care costs and family disruption caused by permanent injuries and lost productivity. Traffic crashes are usually caused by people rather than engineering or environmental conditions, and as such are often 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. Since 1994, Missoula County has been ranked as number one in the state for severe injury crashes (those involving a fatality or incapacitating injury). Of the 2,529 crashes reported in 2004, 212 were classified as "severe" crashes. In comparison, Yellowstone County ranked second in the state for severe injury crashes in 2004 with a total of 128. Key contributing factors: speed too fast for conditions, failure to yield the right of way, and impaired (alcohol, drugs, etc.) driving.


graph percent of crashes alcohol related missoula and montana

Source: Montana Traffic Safety Bureau, MDOT

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Related Data


Seat Belts


Montana youth self-reported use, from 2009 YRBS:
  7th - 8th High School
Always wear a seat belt 65% 45%
Never / rarely wear a seat belt 5% 12%
Always wear bicycle helmet 22% 6%

Healthy People 2020 Targets

  • 92% of all vehicle occupants wear a seat belt all the time
  • 79% of all bicyclists wear a helmet

Seat belt usage rates by state - 2010, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Seatbelts and crash injuries

Montana 10-year average (2004-2013) of crashes involving no seatbelt  or incorrect use: In fatality crashes, 65% were not wearing a seatbelt. In serious injury crashes, 38% were not wearing a seatbelt.

Speed at the time of the crash plays a significant factor in the effectiveness of seatbelts and airbags.


Impaired Driving

graph missoula county dui arrests


Healthy People 2020 Target    
  Base Target
Reduce DUI fatality rate per million miles traveled .4 .38



Distracted Driving

Slightly more than half of Missoula high school students report texting, emailing or talking on a cell phone while driving.  YRBS 2011

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calculates that the chances of being in a traffic crash while talking on a cell phone are the same as driving with a BAC of .08.  The chances of being in a traffic crash while texting is the same as driving with a BAC of .16.

In traffic crashes resulting from distracted driving, almost 20% listed the distraction as cell phone use. CDC, National Center for Injury Prevention & Control, 2007


Speed Kills

Crash severity increases proportionally based on the speed of vehicle at impact. Because of this, the chance 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). The top 3 major contributing factor to crashes in Montana, in 2004, were careless driving – 34%; failure to yield - 21%; and speed too fast – 20%.


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. In 42 states, the minimum driver age is at least 16: in Montana, it is 15.

Nationally, young people 15-24 represent 14% of the population, yet make up 28% of crash injuries and fatalities.  Insurance Institute for Highway Safety 2010

In Montana, from 1995 to 2004, an average of 7% of crashes involving drivers under 21 were alcohol related.

In Montana drivers age 15-19 make up:

For each year between ages 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, Traffic Safety Problem Identification Report, 2009

The 2005 State Legislature passed laws regarding graduated licensing for beginning drivers that include, among other things, at least 6 months of learning time with 50 hours of supervised driving experience, nighttime driving restrictions and a limited number of teen passengers.

Parents Are the Key - to safer teen driving, from CDC


The leading causes of death for people aged 15-24 are:

  1. Unintentional injuries - in Montana, motor vehicle crashes account for 40% of these injuries.
  2. Homicide
  3. Suicide
    CDC, National Center for Injury Prevention & Control, 2007


Related websites

More traffic crash data

Montana traffic crash statistics, by county, from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

National Center for Injury Prevention and Control

Links to health data, statistics and information from many national sources.

Healthy People 2020


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