When you think Montana, most Americans would not surmise it is the second most expensive insurance state in the US and has the highest highway crash fatalities in the US, most simply think of its rural Big Sky moniker. With such a high fatality rate, driving safely in the state should be taken seriously.
Most Dangerous State
Montana was recently named the most dangerous state to drive in based on a study by the University of Michigan’s Research Institute. The study stated that states with a higher percentage of rural roads combined with those state’s penchant for higher speed limits contributes to fatalities, of which Montana has the highest per capita road deaths in the US.
Montana’s reluctance to adopt other safety measures such as a distracted driving law and making seat belts a primary law may be contributing factors. If you are driving in Montana, be sure to keep your speed in check especially during inclement weather. Fast driving on possibly poorly maintained rural roads without quick access to medical attention could mean a fatal accident.
Vast & Varied
As the 4th largest state in the US, Montana, located along the 49th Parallel in the north and the 44th Parallel in the south and stretching from the Rocky Mountains east to encompass the Great Northern Plains includes a vast territory. This vast geographic difference includes an equally different topography and climate.
The State also straddles the Great Continental Divide which provides a significant difference between the water flows in the west and eastern portions of the state. The majority of the western part of the state is made up of several mountain ranges as part of the Rocky Mountains. With elevations up to 13,000 feet above sea level, weather can be very dependent on where you are located within the mountain ranges or the valleys in between. These mountain ranges extend in the center of the state. However the middle and eastern part of the state is mainly made up of prairies and bad lands. Road conditions across these areas can be varied, especially within the 35% of the state lands that are federally administered as part of the National Parks system.
If you are travelling through the vast rural parts of the state, be sure to have a vehicle prepared for the terrain, in good working condition and carrying the necessary supplies, should you break down.
The climate is just as varied as road conditions in the vast state. From mountainous regions to a semi-arid continental climate in the east, weather can be dramatically different, especially at higher elevations in the mountainous regions. Temperatures can reach extremes of 117F in the more arid eastern portions of the state and the west holds the coldest temperature on record for the contiguous US at -70f recorded in 1954 at a gold mining camp. Chinooks are a steady weather pattern that can warm temperatures up to 50-60F in a day during winter months, east of the mountain ranges. Subject to massive snowstorms most of the cities have 50-60 inches of snow during a winter season, although up to 300 inches can fall in the winter.
At Fault and Modified Comparative Fault
The second most expensive insurance state in the US, Montana unfortunately falls prey to a number of factors that combined make it more expensive. Besides its road conditions in rural areas, crash fatality rate, lax driver laws it also has a liberal court system that seems to favor drivers in settlement awards. These awards tend to drive up insurance pricing for all drivers. The state also has the 15th highest percentage of uninsured drivers also driving insurance prices higher.
Although it seems clear the liberal courts are making it’s at fault and modified comparative fault rules partially to blame for higher insurance rates, in other states, this same system does not always drive rates higher. As a driver in Montana, it is suggested to carry full insurance coverage as well as uninsured and underinsured coverage to protect yourself from financial disaster, should you be found at fault in a major accident.
Harsh DUI Suspensions
Montana’s DUI penalties tend to be on the lighter side of the scale, although because of federal regulations, no state truly has lax DUI laws anymore. With 2nd, 3rd or 4th DUI offense convictions all only netting 1 year driving license suspensions, it is the main reason Montana’s DUI laws are seen as ‘lighter’. When most states raise the suspension rate for 3rd and 4th offenses especially, Montana does not. With only a 5 year look back period it also lessens the risks for drivers past this period. Although the state does impose a novel approach to DUI offenses promoting a daily breathalyzer test for BAC on those with multiple offenses. This test may be required several times throughout the day.
Comprehensive Demerit System
Traffic violations in the state however are quite in-depth including improper windshield wiper blades to intentional vehicle homicide resulting in demerit points. This point system has several hundred infractions that can be leveled against drivers. Suspensions of your license can occur at certain point levels within and 18 or 36 month period.
Did You Know That…
1. Montana is the 4th largest state, but 48th in population density.
2. 35% of roadways are under federal jurisdiction in the state.
3. Shares its entire northern border with Canada.
4. Has had a single day temperature swing of 103F.
5. Does not have a distracted driver law or anti-texting law in place.
6. Is separated by the Great Continental Divide.
7. A 3rd DUI results in a 1 year license suspension.
8. It has a secondary seat belt law where enforcement officers cannot pull you over only for not wearing a seat belt.
9. Its economy is mainly still agrarian and farming based.
10. Its largest Metropolitan Urban area is only 166,000 people.