DOJ: News Release

McGrath Urges Seatbelt Use as Fatalities Break 200 Mark

HELENA – Attorney General Mike McGrath on Monday asked all Montanans to wear their seatbelts and drive defensively in an effort to curb the state’s rising fatality count.

Nine deaths in the past week pushed Montana’s traffic fatalities to 205. That number is significantly above the 165 deaths at this time last year.

“Too many people die because they are unbuckled and are thrown out of their vehicles,” McGrath said. “Seatbelts could likely have saved 75 percent of the people killed on our roads this year, so let’s make sure we do save three of every four potential fatalities from now on.”

The percentage of people who die in crashes involving passenger vehicles and who are not wearing their seatbelts is relatively constant from year to year, staying at about 70 percent, he said:

  • Of the 168 fatalities that involved passenger vehicles to date this year, over 75 percent of them – 129 – were not wearing their seatbelts.
  • In 2004, 196 people died on Montana highways. Over 70 percent of them – 140 drivers and passengers – either didn’t use or improperly used their seatbelts. Of those, 96 people were partially or completely ejected.
  • In 2003, 251 people died on Montana highways. Nearly 68 percent of them – 171 drivers and passengers – either didn’t use or improperly used their seatbelts. Of those, 31 people were partially or completely ejected.

McGrath also noted that, while the 2005 Legislature passed a number of important traffic safety measures, some of them haven’t gone into effect yet. Senate Bill 80 banned open containers of alcohol in vehicles, but that new law doesn’t go into effect until October 1. Senate Bill 104 established graduated driving privileges for young Montanans but it won’t go into effect for another nine months, until July 2006.

“Unfortunately, the legislature didn’t back our bill to allow primary enforcement of the state’s seatbelt law,” McGrath said. “Seatbelt enforcement will definitely be one of my highest priorities again in the 2007 session. It’s one law that is way overdue.”

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