According to AAA, in 2020, nearly 40,000 people died in the U.S. in traffic crashes, the most since 2007, and the numbers coming from 2021 are expected to be even worse.

The largest increases occurred in western states like Montana, where fatalities surged by 26 percent.

One of the major factors in the increase in traffic deaths is excessive speed. KGVO reached out to Sergeant Jay Nelson, Public Information Officer with the Montana Highway Patrol, who said speed is indeed a factor for Montana drivers.

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“We were not an exception to that, and we did have a spike in fatalities,” said Sergeant Nelson. “What we've seen is an increase in speed. Speed is one of the factors that, especially last year, just stuck out percentage wise in Montana with fatalities.”

Nelson said the Montana Highway Patrol’s vehicles monitor all of the state’s thousands of miles of interstate and state roads and highways, and Montana’s population is growing rapidly.

“Montana's getting more and more traffic,” he said. “You know, we've been talking in the Highway Patrol about the fact that we don't have enough troopers out on the road to be really as proactive as we would like to be. There’s an increase in people that are traveling in our communities, and an increasing number of people in Montana itself. I mean, you can't find a home in most cities to buy right now, just because of the massive amount of people moving into our state.”

Even though there are vast spaces between Montana cities and towns, Sergeant Nelson asks all drivers to slow down for safety.

“Please just slow down,” he said “That's the biggest thing. We can't negate the fact also to please don't get behind the wheel if you've been drinking alcohol or consumed any drugs, and we say drugs now because the marijuana has been legalized and there are some restrictions with that. And then always, always put on your seatbelt. It's the cheapest life insurance policy you'll ever get.”

Nelson also emphasized the fact that Montana Highway Patrol troopers travel alone across the state, and said the public can assist the MHP by being observant and reporting anything illegal to 9-1-1 or to the Highway Patrol directly.

“With over 150,000 miles of roadway in the state of Montana, in such a vast open area, our troopers are often in the middle of nowhere by themselves,” he said. “They're the best trained and equipped law enforcement in our state. I truly believe that the biggest thing that citizens can do is ‘when you see something, say something’. If you see something that just doesn't look right, call us. If you see somebody that needs help, call us. If you see somebody that's breaking the law, let us know.”

Click here to see the latest traffic fatality numbers compiled by the Montana Highway Patrol.

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