The Montana Highway Patrol’s Project Zero campaign has been pushing the goal of zero deaths on Montana’s highways for several years, but the number of highway fatalities has been holding steady for the past three years.

MHP Captain Jim Kitchin provides the numbers from the most recent report for 2019.

“Overall, we had 185 deaths on Montana’s highways in 2019,” said Kitchin. “We had 182 in 2018, so there’s been a percentage increase there. In Missoula in 2017 we had 23 deaths, in 2018 we had 24 and in 2019 we had 25. The numbers are staying the same, but the vehicle miles traveled and the number of motorists we have in the state has increased tenfold compared to what it usually is, so we’re seeing a lot more traffic.”

Kitchin reminds drivers to use common sense when they’re driving, especially in the winter.

“Alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of those crashes and not wearing a seat belt was responsible for 39.8 percent, so 40 percent of these fatalities could have been stopped if these people weren’t drinking a driving and were wearing their seat belts,” he said. “One of the things that’s really tough on our troopers is when Mom or Dad have the kids all buckled in, but they don’t have their seat belts on. They get into a crash, they’re thrown out of the vehicle and they die, and that leaves those children without a parent. It affects the community and it affects our troopers who investigate these crashes.”

Kitchen said real Montana winter weather will be arriving next week and is urging drivers to be prepared for severe driving conditions.

“Plan your trips if you’re going somewhere,” he said. “Plan your trips, check the weather, and check the road conditions before you leave. Take your time and have survival gear in your vehicle. Do not drive in the wintertime with cruise control. Slow down, don’t drink and drive and wear your seat belt.”

Kitchin also has a favorite expression regarding vehicles with four-wheel drive.

“Four-wheel drive does not mean four-wheel stop,” he said. "Just because your vehicle has four-wheel drive that doesn’t mean you can drive 70 miles per hour and think your vehicle is not going to react the same as a two wheel drive. Also, check your tires. Bad tires should never be used in the winter, so be prepared and drive safe.”