Driving U.S. Highway 89 South

Anyone who’s lived here for even a short time has found out: U.S. 89 South is a dangerous road.

It’s two-lane, it’s heavy with local and tourist traffic, it features lots of connecting driveways, lots of deer, and has a world-class view that can distract even the most conscientious driver, let alone vacation-goers who’ve never seen anything like it before.

According to the Montana Highway Patrol, since 2011 five people have died on U.S. 89 South — two in 2012, one in 2013 and two in 2014.

As further evidence of this danger were the two separate crashes that injured at least 11 people Tuesday on 89 South. Thankfully, there were no fatalities, but 11 people injured in the span of one day is a scary number. 

The cause of those accidents is still unknown. 

State and local highway officials have worked hard over the years to improve safety on the road. Turn lanes have been installed at key connecting roads — the lack of which has contributed to who knows how many accidents in the past — and more recently, rumble strips were pressed into the road to alert drivers they are crossing the center line.

But those improvements don’t prevent human error. Drivers still need to keep their eyes on the road, not the mountains; keep their hands on the wheel, not a smartphone; wear a seat belt — one of the most important things you can do to stay alive on a highway; not drink and drive; and keep their foot light on the accelerator. 

Speaking of which, the speed limit on U.S. 89 South is 70 mph. That’s  pretty fast for a road that has claimed five lives in the past five years and is the scene of many accidents. A speed limit of 60 or even 65 would be better.

So far this year, 85 people have died on Montana highways. Let’s not add to that statistic in our county. Please drive safely, especially on U.S. 89 South.

— Dwight Harriman
Enterprise News Editor