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2.14 Highway 200.JPG

Montana Highway 200 west of Sidney.

A Montana Highway Patrol official said it’s difficult to determine whether major changes in highway speed limits here in the 1990s affected highway fatalities.

“As far as being able to determine if these crashes could be attributed to higher speeds is difficult,” the patrol’s data specialist, Curt Rissmann, said. “While we do measurements at all fatal crash scenes, we are unable to determine if speed was the major contributing factor. There are usually other greater contributing factors, such as no seat belts, alcohol, etc.”

Starting in October 1995, Montana operated without a specific daytime numerical speed limit. Instead, the so-called basic rule applied, which required motorists to drive in a “reasonable and prudent” or “reasonable and proper” manner, based on weather and road conditions during the day.

The Montana Supreme Court tossed that out in December 1998, calling it unconstitutionally vague.

The 1999 Montana Legislature passed a law that took effect on Memorial Day to set a 75 mph daytime speed limit on Montana interstate highways.

That speed limit remains in place here today, although some legislators are having bills drafted that would raise the daytime speed limit on certain interstate highways to 80 mph or, in one lawmaker’s case, 85 mph.

During the three full years when “reasonable and prudent” was the law of the land, instead of a daytime speed limit, Montana’s highway fatalities dropped to 198 in 1996, rose to 265 in 1997 and fell to 237 in 1998.

Here, according to the Montana Highway Patrol, are yearly statistics, by year, with the fatal crashes in Montana listed first and the fatalities listed second.

• 1993: 166 fatal crashes and 194 fatalities:

• 1994: 182 and 202.

• 1995: 186 and 215.

• 1996: 177 and 198.

• 1997: 223 and 265.

• 1998: 208 and 237.

• 1999: 194 and 220.

• 2000: 203 and 237.

• 2001: 201 and 230.

• 2002: 232 and 269.

• 2003: 239 and 262.

• 2004: 209 and 229.

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• 2005: 224 and 251.

• 2006: 226 and 263.

• 2007: 249 and 276.

• 2008: 208 and 231.

• 2009: 202 and 221.

• 2010: 161 and 189.

• 2011: 187 and 209.

• 2012: 191 and 205.

• 2013: 203 and 227.

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