Gazette Opinion: Keep alert, buckle up to stay alive behind the wheel

In Montana, getting drunken drivers off the road is a year-around job for the Montana Highway Patrol. For Labor Day weekend and other holidays, each of the eight patrol divisions puts together an enforcement plan to target safety problems in its area, according to Capt. Butch Huseby of the Patrol's Helena office. Drunken driving is one target, but not the only hazard the patrol officers pursue.

The trend seen earlier this year continues with more crashes this year occurring on dry roads in daylight hours and involving only one vehicle. While more DUIs occur at night, tired drivers often account for erratic daytime driving.

Especially on holiday weekends, driver fatigue is a safety hazard, Huseby said. People drive long distances. If they stay up all night at the campground, they're going to be tired driving home the next day. Drivers in a hurry to reach their destination tend to get impatient. Impatient drivers tend to attempt bad passes on two-lane roads, and crashes can happen.

Wake-up call for tired drivers

"People need to recognize that they need some rest before they drive," Huseby said, adding: "If you have a certain time that you need to be home, leave early. Be patient with RVs." He said patrol officers watch for fatigued drivers who may be drifting or driving erratically.

Many crashes in this state occur when a tired driver drifts off the road, the vehicle rolls over and the driver or passengers are ejected because they weren't wearing seat belts. The vast majority of people traveling Montana's highways use seat belts. But the unbelted minority account for the vast majority of people killed in traffic crashes.

Alcohol use has been a factor in 65 Montana traffic deaths reported so far this year, according to preliminary data from MHP. Sixty-two deaths were associated with speed. Some crashes involved both speed and alcohol.

Another bad year

As of Monday, 176 people had died on Montana roads since Jan. 1 - three more lives lost than at this time in 2005, which was a bad year for Montana traffic fatalities.

The more of us who buckle up, stay alert and sober, the better our chance of keeping the traffic toll from climbing before summer ends. There are only six days to go; drive carefully.

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