Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently reported that the states of Vermont and Montana are 1 and 2 as the states with the highest crash fatality rates in the United States.

KGVO News reached out to Montana Highway Patrol Public Information Officer Jay Nelson on Wednesday for his official perspective on those numbers. Going beyond the published report, Nelson said Montana’s most recent fatal crash numbers are even worse.

Montana's Fatal Crash Numbers even Worse than NHTSA Reports

“It's sad to say is we are at a 50 percent increase compared to the last two years during this time period for fatality crashes,” began Sergeant Nelson. “Although the year is in its early stages, it’s just starting February, but that is not where we want to start out the year. We always want to see a decrease in these fatality numbers and we're seeing just the opposite.”

Nelson said the top most obvious factors in the alarming increase in traffic fatalities are the two usual suspects; speed and lack of seat belt usage.

MHP Sergeant Nelson says Speed Kills along with Not Wearing Seat Belts

“I get these statistics on a weekly basis from our crash record section,” he said. “I look at these percentages in these categories where our troopers are out there investigating these crashes. The number one thing that rises to the top right now is speed. We had this as a focus last year. It continues to be where we have a 120 percent increase in speed related fatalities.”

Regarding the increasing numbers of drivers and passengers not using their seat belts, Nelson said it’s the single most effective life insurance policy for anyone in a moving vehicle.

Especially in Winter, Nelson says 'Slow Down and Buckle Up'

“Obviously we've got an increase also is seat belts not being used,” he said. “We've talked about that many times to your listeners. As long as we slow down and we put on our seat belts and we don't drive impaired our numbers are going to go down, however we just have not seen that statewide.”

The NHSTA study stated that Montana had a fatality rate of 51.23 percent, accounting for 1,003 deaths out of 1,958 people involved in accidents.

LOOK: Most dangerous states to drive in

Stacker used the Federal Highway Administration's 2020 Highway Statistics report to rank states by the fatalities per billion miles traveled. 

Gallery Credit: Katherine Gallagher

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