The Montana Highway Patrol says highway deaths in 2013 increased by 10 percent over 2012 totals, but it’s the statistics within that higher figure which are puzzling troopers.
Vehicle-related deaths on Montana’s roadways, both urban and rural, totaled 224 in 2013—compared with 204 in 2012. Regional Commander for the eastern part of the state, James Moody, said Montana typically has somewhere around 200 highway deaths a year.
Strangely, this year’s totals show a decrease in alcohol-related highway deaths by about 30-percent. Deaths where speed was a factor also dropped. Yet, Moody said pedestrian-related deaths skyrocketed by more than 200 percent—from 7 in 2012 to 23 in 2013.
"This pedestrian thing, we're all scratching our heads going 'what the heck?’” Moody said. “There's something going on and we don't really know what it is yet."
Moody predicted cell-phone related distractions could be responsible for some of this increase, but it’s difficult to put any hard evidence to that.
“It’s just one of those things that in a pedestrian crash you don’t get a lot of those answers,” he said. “When it’s a fatality, there’s nobody to talk to and you don’t know what their mindset was.”
Moody said the Highway Patrol is always looking for ways to bring down the number of vehicle-related deaths. But, in his opinion, putting more troopers on the road could do more good than anything.
"I know factually, and I know deep down in my heart, that manpower is one of our biggest obstacles," he said.
The Montana Legislature did add five troopers this year to boost patrols of the Bakken region. Moody does not believe this is enough to address increasing population and traffic in the state.