The 2019 Montana Highway Patrol Annual Report was issued on Tuesday, and KGVO reached out to the MHP Commander Colonel Tom Butler for the statistics revealed in the report.

“The one takeaway from this report is that unfortunately we had 184 fatalities last year,” said Col. Butler. “The statistics in these reports just get lost, but everybody needs to remember that’s 184 families that are not going to have somebody come home when they expected them last year. That’s the real tragedy and frustration for all of us at the Highway Patrol, because we’re out in the middle of all those. We have to talk to all the relatives and we have to deal with the aftermath after the crash.”

Col. Butler commented on the fact that just one contributing circumstance caused by far the most crashes in 2019, inattentive driving, causing nearly 5,000 crashes statewide.

“There are so many people that are multi-tasking out there,” he said. “That’s a term that we all know is just not possible. We all think that we can multi-task, but you can’t. You can only really focus on one thing at a time. Driving is such a divided attention activity that you really need to be focused on what you’re doing when you’re driving. There are just so many distractions, If you’re on a two-lane highway in Montana, chances are if you drift off across the fog line, depending on the condition of the shoulder, you’re going to go off the road, and that’s where we get into the many rollover crashes that we have.”

Butler was asked about the very real possibility that the MHP may soon have another dangerous factor to deal with; legalized recreational marijuana.

“When you look at the data that’s coming out of Washington and Colorado specific to legalization in those states, marijuana involved injury and fatal crashes both increased in those states since legalization,” he said. “That’s definitely be another challenge we’ll be facing if legalization occurs, and it was my understanding that as of last week they have obtained enough signatures to be on the ballot, so that will be a challenge as we move into the future, no doubt.”

KGVO asked Butler to name the one safety factor that he and his MHP troopers recommend most highly, and the answer was no surprise.

“The biggest thing is click that seat belt on,” he said. “You may think you’re a great driver and you don’t worry about your driving abilities, but all the people around you could very well cause you to have a crash, and that seat belt makes such an incredible difference on lessening injuries or making sure that you stay alive, by that one second click.”