The Montana Department of Transportation found that at least 30 motorcyclists died in accidents in the state in 2022. These include fatalities in one- and two-vehicle crashes in August, with the victims perishing from injuries caused by blunt force trauma. The total fatalities for 2022, which were 190, were fewer than the state’s 230 fatalities for 2021.
Despite these lower numbers, the Motorcycle Safety Foundation continues to remind motorcyclists to practice proper road etiquette and obey the state’s traffic regulations. It stresses the importance of wearing appropriate protective gear, avoiding blind spots, and driving at safe speeds to minimize the risk of an accident and save riders from potentially life-threatening injuries. These reminders align with guidelines concerning the proper operation of a motorcycle that are imposed throughout the state.
In addition to traffic ordinances, the state has laws that help riders and other motorists prepare for the financial and legal issues that may arise if an accident occurs. These laws inform people of the time they have to file a lawsuit, the amount of damages they can potentially recover, and the factors that the court considers when awarding damages to them or determining the liability of an offending driver.
Montana Motorcycle Helmet and Equipment Requirements
In Montana, only motorcycle riders under 18 are required to wear helmets. Their helmet must pass the safety and performance standards set by the state’s Department of Justice. Additionally, a motorcycle operator cannot travel on any road or highway unless all passengers aged below 18 are wearing helmets.
Motorists who fail to follow Montana’s helmet requirements for minor riders will be charged with a misdemeanor and fined accordingly. Their offense will be tallied in their driving record, and repeat offenses can result in an increase in their car and insurance premiums, along with a potential license suspension.
In addition to helmet requirements, all motorcyclists in the state must have the proper equipment installed on their motorcycles. These include:
A headlamp that illuminates a minimum of 500 feet ahead
A reflector and a tail light that are visible from a minimum distance of 500 feet
A horn that is audible from a minimum distance of 200 feet
A rearview mirror that shows objects, pedestrians, and vehicles behind the motorcycle at a minimum distance of 200 feet
A brake light that is visible from a minimum of 100 feet in daylight
A license plate light
A foot and hand brake
Footrests that passengers can use
Montana Police Pursuit Policy
Law enforcement departments throughout Montana follow a police pursuit model policy for any pursuits carried out by their personnel. Such a policy helps police officers identify and adhere to the procedures involved in initiating, maintaining, and terminating a pursuit so that the lives and property of other individuals are not put in danger. A specific example of the state’s pursuit policies is the one followed by the Missoula Police Department.
Once a pursuit begins, the officers involved must take into account the suspect’s crime and the risk that it poses to other motorists and pedestrians. Additionally, police should consider whether the risk of allowing the suspect to escape outweighs the risk of endangering others during the process. When initiating or continuing a pursuit, officers must take the following factors into account:
Vehicle speeds and performance capabilities
Road, visibility, and weather conditions
The presence of other pedestrians or motorists
The seriousness of the offense committed by the suspect
Once a pursuit is underway, all law enforcement vehicles involved must be operated safely and must turn on their emergency lights and sirens. Officers are allowed to violate traffic regulations as long as they continue to exercise due care throughout the operation. In the event that the pursuit leaves a police department’s jurisdiction, a supervisor must alert the agency that has authority over the pursuit’s new location.
A supervisor may end a pursuit at any time for public safety, particularly if the circumstances and other factors make it unsafe to continue the operation. In addition, a pursuit can stop if police lose visual contact with the suspect, if communication lines are broken, or if the suspect has been identified and can be apprehended later.
Montana Regulations on Motorcycle Operation
Motorcyclists in Montana must adhere to guidelines imposed by state law when operating a motorcycle alone or with a passenger. This is to ensure that a motorcycle is able to navigate roadways safely and reduce the chances of accidents occurring. These guidelines are as follows:
A motorcycle driver can sit only on the regular seat attached to the vehicle; no other person may ride on the same seat unless the vehicle was designed for such a purpose.
A motorcycle can carry more than one passenger only if another seat is attached next to or behind the operator’s seat.
A passenger can only ride a motorcycle if they are astride a seat and facing forward, with their legs on either side of the vehicle.
A motorcycle cannot carry passengers, packages, or items in a position that will negatively impact its safe and proper operation or obstruct the operator's view.
A motorcycle must have its headlights on at all times when navigating any roadway; an exception applies if the motorcycle’s headlights require repair and it is being driven to the nearest repair facility.
Only two motorcycles may be operated in a single lane side by side.
Montana Speed Limits
Speed limits are put in place throughout Montana to help drivers navigate roads safely and curb the likelihood of accidents caused by overspeeding. When imposing certain limits, the state DOT’s Transportation Commission considers factors such as a road’s length and width, location, and crash history. Certain limits change based on their location during nighttime, which officially begins 30 minutes after sunset and lasts until 30 minutes before sunrise.
Unless specified otherwise by traffic signs and ordinances, the state’s speed limits are:
25 mph in urban districts and residential areas
65 mph on undivided roads and interstate highways within urban areas (both daytime and nighttime)
70 mph on two-lane highways and divided roads (65 mph during nighttime for two-lane highways)
75 mph on rural freeways
80 mph on all other interstate highways (both daytime and nighttime)
Drivers who fail to follow Montana’s speed limits will be fined between $20 and $200 based on how much they exceed any limit. Since speeding is not a criminal offense in the state, insurers cannot raise a driver's premiums because of a speeding violation. Additionally, the violation will not be documented in the offender's driving record. However, speeding becomes a criminal offense if a driver exceeds any given limit by 90 mph.
Montana DUI Law
To prevent accidents caused by drunk or impaired driving, Montana laws prohibit drivers from operating any vehicle while under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or combinations of similar substances. Under the state’s guidelines, a motorist is deemed legally under the influence of alcohol if their blood alcohol content has a level of 0.08% or greater. Those with a delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol level of 5 ng/mL or more are considered to be under the influence of drugs.
In cases where a motorist’s BAC level is higher than 0.04% but lower than 0.08%, they may or may not be considered legally under the influence of alcohol, depending on the additional evidence presented. Meanwhile, those under 21 receive a DUI infraction if their BAC level is equal to or greater than 0.02%.
In terms of penalties, those guilty of a DUI offense can serve between two days and one year in jail and pay a fine ranging from $600 to $10,000, depending on how many violations they have committed within a specific period. Their license will be suspended for six months to one year, and they are required to drive with an ignition interlock device if they are given a probationary license. They must complete a dependency education course, a substance abuse assessment, and a chemical dependency treatment program before their driver’s license can be reinstated.
Montana Motorcycle Insurance Requirements
Like in Florida and Washington, motorcyclists in Montana are not required to obtain motorcycle insurance. However, having auto liability coverage is recommended, as it will help pay for any resulting losses concerning medical care and property damage in the event of an accident. A motorcyclist who causes an accident without insurance will be responsible for paying the damages of any victims out of their own pocket.
In case a motorcycle owner decides to get auto liability coverage, their policy must meet the state’s minimum required amounts, as follows:
$25,000 for the bodily injury to or death of one person
$50,000 for the bodily injury to or death of two or more persons
$10,000 for property damage
Motorcycle owners can further support any existing auto liability coverage with other types of policies, such as collision and comprehensive coverage. Collision coverage allows the insurance owner to address any repair costs for their vehicle, while comprehensive coverage pays for damages caused by non-accident factors such as theft and weather. Lastly, individuals may obtain uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage to shoulder losses in an accident caused by a driver with insufficient or no insurance.
Montana Is An At-Fault State for Insurance Claims
Montana follows at-fault guidelines for insurance claims, which means that those responsible for an accident will shoulder the victims’ financial losses in terms of medical expenses and damaged property through their insurance policies. Under at-fault rules, accident victims can also file lawsuits against offending drivers for compensation.
Victims can file a first-party claim against their insurance company if they have the applicable policies, such as collision coverage. Once the company finishes covering the victim’s losses, it will file a subrogation claim against the insurance company of the at-fault driver.
If a driver lacks the proper insurance to cover losses in an accident they cause, a victim can file an uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage claim with their own insurance company. The same can be done if the at-fault driver in an accident flees the scene, since unidentifiable drivers are automatically counted as uninsured motorists.
How Much Can Someone Sue for a Motorcycle Accident in Montana
Montana does not have any specific limitations on the total amount of economic and non-economic damages that a plaintiff can recover in a motorcycle accident case. The state’s only specified cap is $250,000 for damages related to pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases. As such, motorcycle accident victims throughout the state can pursue and obtain the maximum compensation that they need to cover their losses.
It should be noted that Montana courts require damages in personal injury cases to be within reasonable limits. Under the state’s laws, damage awards in such cases must not exceed the amounts necessary to cover a plaintiff’s present and future losses. Additionally, any damages already paid for by the defendant and/or their insurer will be taken into account by the court and consequently subtracted from the plaintiff’s damage award.
Montana also awards punitive damages to accident victims if the court finds that the at-fault driver acted indifferently or consciously disregarded the high probability of the plaintiff’s injury. The total award for punitive damages is capped at either 3% of a defendant’s net worth or $10 million, whichever of the two values is less.
Montana Is A Modified Comparative Negligence State for Motorcycle Accident Lawsuits
Montana follows the basis of modified comparative negligence when determining the damages a motorcycle accident victim can receive. Under this rule, the plaintiff in a case will have their damage award reduced if they were partially at fault for an accident. The amount of damages deducted follows the percentage of the plaintiff’s assigned fault; for example, if they were 20% at fault, they would get only $80,000 from a damage award worth $100,000.
The state’s modified comparative negligence guidelines also follow a fault threshold of 51%. This means that if a plaintiff’s fault exceeds 51%, they will be barred from recovering any damages.
To determine an offending driver’s negligence, a plaintiff must prove the following elements in court:
The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of reasonable care
The defendant breached that duty of care
The defendant’s breach of duty is the direct cause of the plaintiff’s injury
The plaintiff suffered damages as a result of their injury
Montana Statute of Limitations for Motorcycle Accidents
Montana law dictates that motorcycle accident victims have up to three years to file a lawsuit against the driver responsible for their injuries, starting from the date of the accident. The same duration applies to a deceased victim’s dependents if they wish to file a wrongful death claim, with the statute of limitations beginning on the date of the victim’s death.
The three-year deadline can be tolled in instances where the discovery rule applies. This involves cases where a victim fails to discover an injury from an accident until later. Under these circumstances, Montana’s statute of limitations begins on the date the victim discovers the injury or when they should have been reasonably aware of it.
The statute of limitations can also start differently in cases involving minors or those who are not mentally capable due to a disability. In these cases, the statute of limitations begins when the minor in question turns 18 or when the mentally incapable person recovers from their disability. However, they will only have up to two years to file a lawsuit.
Legal Resources for Montana Motorcycle Accident Victims
The State Bar of Montana’s website has sections for state residents who require legal assistance. Potential plaintiffs can visit the Licensed Lawyer Search section to look for specific attorneys based on their names or practice areas. The website also has a Fee Arbitration section that allows people to complete and submit requests for arbitration concerning fee disputes with lawyers. In addition, people can visit the Office of Disciplinary Counsel section to learn how to file grievances concerning attorney misconduct.
Montana Motorcycle Rider Safety, which is part of Montana State University-Northern in Havre, is the state’s official motorcycle training school. It accommodates both new and experienced motorcyclists who wish to enroll in various courses related to the proper operation of motorcycles and the mitigation of risks on the road. Prospective enrollees can visit the MMRS website to learn more about specific courses and motorcycle endorsement requirements, as well as the procedures involved in registering for a certain course based on skill level.
The Montana Motorcycle Supplement is an informative manual that educates prospective riders throughout the state regarding motorcycle safety and road etiquette. It also offers a basic summary of the requirements involved in securing a motorcycle endorsement, along with sample questions that give riders an initial grasp of those presented in a driver's examination. Additionally, it has sections that discuss mechanical problems and crash avoidance, as well as the risks and penalties involved in driving while intoxicated.
The Motorcycle Safety Foundation offers an alternative option for riders who wish to learn about proper motorcycle operation and safety maneuvers. It has basic and advanced courses that motorcyclists can apply for based on their respective skill levels, and it occasionally holds events discussing relevant topics such as motorist and alcohol awareness. The MSF website’s Library section also offers access to copies of rider course handbooks, reference materials, and safety booklets that users can read online or download.
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