If you’ve been injured in a car accident in the State of Montana, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage and/or personal injury claim. In this article, we’ll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents. To read the entirety of each law, click the link to the specific State of Montana statutes in each section.
Here are the Montana car accident and traffic laws we’ll cover:
Pedestrians and Crosswalks
When traffic control signals are not in place or not working, drivers must yield the right-of-way, to pedestrians crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection. When a vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, the driver may make a right-hand turn if the pedestrian is in the opposite half of the roadway and is not in danger.
Restrictions on Pedestrians Crossing Roadways
A pedestrian may not suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close that it is impossible for the operator to yield.
Pedestrian Control Signals
Whenever special pedestrian control signals, exhibiting the words Walk or Don’t Walk or the symbols of a walking person or an upraised palm are in place such signals shall indicate as follows:
- Walk or Walking Person. Pedestrians facing such signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and shall be given the right of way by the drivers of all vehicles.
- Don’t Walk or Upraised Palm. No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of such signal, whether flashing or steady. Any pedestrian who has partially completed the pedestrian’s crossing on the Walk or Walking Person signal shall complete the crossing to a sidewalk or safety island while the Don’t Walk or Upraised Palm signal is showing.
- A pedestrian may not start to cross a roadway in the direction of a steady “Don’t Walk” signal or upraised palm symbol.
Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks
Pedestrians intending to cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway.
Pedestrians must use only the marked crosswalk to cross between two adjacent intersections that have traffic-control signals in operation.
Pedestrians on Roadway
Where sidewalks are provided, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon adjacent roadway, bicycle lane, or bicycle path.
Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians are permitted to walk only on or along the left side of the roadway or on it’s shoulder facing traffic from the opposite direction.
Pedestrians’ Right of Way on Sidewalks
The driver of a vehicle emerging from or entering an alley, building, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any pedestrian approaching on any sidewalk extending across the alley, building entrance, road, or driveway.
Drivers to Exercise Due Care
The driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the driver’s horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or an obviously confused, incapacitated, or intoxicated person upon a roadway.
Pedestrians Under the Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance
The driver of a vehicle must exercise due care to avoid colliding with an obviously intoxicated person upon a roadway. Except in a crosswalk, a person who is under the influence of alcohol or any drug may walk or stand in the public right-of-way, but not on a roadway or a shoulder.
Obedience to Traffic Control Devices
A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver, unless directed by a traffic or police officer.
Driving on Right Side of Roadway
Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:
- When passing another driver in the same direction
- When there is an obstruction in the right lane
- Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic
- Upon a roadway with three marked lanes of traffic
- Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle
Passing On the Left
Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at at a safe distance and shall remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane. Drivers being passed must not increase the speed of their vehicle until their vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking car.
Limitations on Overtaking on the Left
Drivers may drive to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle only if the left side is clearly visible and the overtaking vehicle can return to its lane without coming within 100 hundred feet of oncoming traffic.
Passing On the Right
Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:
- When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn. However, the driver attempting to pass on the right must not do so without driving off the pavement of main-traveled portion of the roadway.
- When the roadway has two (2) or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
- On a one-way street where the roadway is free from obstructions and wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles.
Following Too Closely
A driver must not follow another driver more closely than is “reasonable and prudent”, having due regard for the speed of other drivers and traffic conditions along the roadway. A driver who is towing another vehicle must leave sufficient space ahead of their vehicle to allow an overtaking vehicle to enter and occupy this space without danger.
Drivers and Intersections
When two (2) drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver to their right.
Drivers Intending to Turn Left at Intersections
A driver who intends to turn left at an intersection, or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield the right of way to drivers approaching from the opposite direction.
Drivers Entering or Crossing a Roadway
A driver about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway must yield the right of way to all vehicles on the roadway to be crossed.
Bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.
Motorcyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.
Motorcyclists and Lanes of Traffic
Motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of a traffic lane and drivers must not take any action to deprive a motorcyclist of his or her right to use a full lane on a roadway. A motorcyclist must not pass another driver in the same lane. Motorcyclists must not ride more than two (2) abreast in a single lane.
Motorcyclists must not pass another driver in the same lane. Commonly known as “lane splitting,” motorcyclists sometimes attempt to pass other drivers when traffic is slowed, or bumper to bumper. To move forward through traffic motorcyclists sometimes drive between cars. Doing so is not only illegal, but quite dangerous.
All motorcyclists under 18 years of age must wear helmets while riding on roadways.
Motorcycles and Headlights
Driving Offenses and Accident Requirements
A driver who does not drive it in a careful and prudent manner and who unduly or unreasonably endangers the life, limb, property, or other rights of a person is guilty of careless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.
A driver who drives in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property is guilty of reckless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.
Alcohol and Minors
It is illegal for a person under the age of 21 who has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.02% or more to drive or be in actual physical control of a vehicle on a state roadway.
Driver’s Duty to Give Information and Render Aid
A driver involved in an accident with another person or a deceased person must give their name, address and the registration number of the car they are driving and must upon request, exhibit their driver’s license to any person involved in the accident.
If any person in the accident is injured or deceased, or if there is property damage of $1,000 or more, the driver must remain at the scene of the accident until an on-duty peace officer with authority to investigate the accident gives the driver express permission to leave. This law does not apply when the driver reasonably believes it is necessary to leave the scene in order to seek emergency medical care for any person involved in the accident or to give notice to authorities.
Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including making of arrangements to transfer the injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent medical treatment is required.
Accidents Involving Another Person or Deceased Person
he driver of any vehicle that has been in an accident with another person or a deceased person must immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has fulfilled the requirements of 61-7-105.
Accidents Involving an Unattended Vehicle
The driver of any vehicle which collides with any vehicle which is unattended must immediately stop and either (1) locate and give to the operator or owner of the struck vehicle the name and address of the driver and owner of the vehicle that caused the accident, or (2) leave a written notice, in a conspicuous place, giving the name and address of the driver and of the owner of the vehicle that caused the accident, as well as a statement of the circumstances.
Driver’s Duty to Notify Police Department
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or total damage to all property resulting in $1,000 or more must give report the accident in writing to the authorities within 10 days, unless the accident is investigated and reported by a law enforcement officer.
Accident Reports Filed By Police Departments
A law enforcement officer who investigates an accident that results in injury, death, or total damage to all property resulting in $1,000 or more must forward a written report of the accident to the department within 10 days after completing the investigation.
Accident Report Forms
The department must prepare and, upon request, supply to police departments, coroners, medical examiners, sheriffs, garages, and other suitable agencies or individuals forms for accident reports. The written reports must request sufficiently detailed information about the causes, conditions then existing, and the persons and vehicles involved in the accident.
Open Alcohol Container Law
A driver or passenger must not be in possession of an opened container of an alcoholic beverage on Montana roadways. An opened alcoholic beverage container can be kept only in the trunk of a vehicle, in a locked glove compartment, or in the space behind the rearmost upright seat where a passenger would not normally sit.
Passengers in the living quarters of a motor home and passenger of a hired vehicle can possess an opened container.
Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance
A driver must not drive after drinking an alcoholic beverage or consuming an intoxicant in an amount which renders the driver incapable of driving safely along roadways. In Montana, a driver is guilty of the offense of driving under the influence of alcohol if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher.
Ignition Interlock Device
A driver who is guilty of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs might be ordered to have installed at his or her own expenses an ignition interlock device. The ignition interlock device will serve to restore the driver’s driving privileges during the pendency of the driver’s probation. If an ignition device is installed, it must be installed in every car owned or operated by the driver.
An ignition interlock is a device which measures any amount of alcohol contained in a driver’s body. Before starting the car the driver must blow into a tube emanating from the ignition interlock device. If the device then detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than is permitted by law the car will not start and the violation will be reported to the prosecutor, the probation officer, and/or the judge. At that point the driver may be subject to loss of driving privileges, immediate arrest and incarceration up to the maximum term provided by law.
Montana and Dram Shop Law
Montana has a modified Dram Shop Law. Dram Shop Law refers to the liability of private social hosts, bars, hotels nightclubs and other commercial establishments who serve alcohol to patrons or to minors for injuries intoxicated patrons or minors cause to third parties such as in car accidents.
A private social host is the host at a private party, such as a wedding reception, a corporate sponsored event, a gathering of friends at a private residence, where alcohol is served not for profit.
Under Montana law, a person who sells or provides alcohol is not liable for the injuries or property damage caused by the intoxicated person unless (1) the intoxicated person was underage and the seller or provider knew this or should have known this, (2) the intoxicated person was visibly intoxicated, or (3) the seller or provider forced or deceived the person to consume alcohol.
Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits
In the State of Montana, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:
- At least $50,000 per person
- At least $50,000 for two or more people
- $20,000 per occurrence for property damage
Montana Insurance Information
For information about auto insurance, visit the Montana State Consumer Guide to Auto Insurance website.
Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)
In Montana, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim’s liability in causing the accident, their comparative negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives.
If the victim contributed less than 51% of the negligence that caused the accident, then their compensation is reduced by the amount they contributed to the accident. If the victim contributed 51% or more of the negligence that caused the accident, then the victim is barred from receiving any compensation.
Example of Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)
One morning, Jackson was driving north on his way to work. At an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane. At the same time, Melanie approached the intersection from the opposite direction. Suddenly, Jackson turned left into Melanie’s lane and their cars collided.
Melanie sustained serious brain injuries and damage to her car, totalling in $100,000 dollars worth of damages.
After their investigation, the police determined that Jackson had failed to yield according to traffic laws. A pedestrian witness told police he saw Melanie facing the backseat and reaching for an object at the time Jackson’s car crashed into Melanie’s. As a result, the police issued Melanie a citation for careless driving.
Melanie sued Jackson for $100,000 and claimed he was 100% at fault for the accident because he did not yield to her right-of-way. At trial, the jury found Jackson liable for failing to yield the right-of-way. However, the jury also found Melissa liable for careless driving and partially responsible for the accident.
The verdict stated Jackson’s negligence equaled 70% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 30%. The jury awarded Melanie only $70,000 dollars.
In the event the jury had found Jackson’s negligence equaled 49% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 51%, the jury would be barred by law from awarding Melanie any compensation for the damages.
Comparative Negligence: Section 27-1-702
Right of Way: Section 61-8-340
Careless driving: Section 61-8-302
Montana’s Fault-based Car Insurance
In Montana, the law requires drivers to purchase liability insurance that can compensate for any injury or damage they cause as a result of being at fault for a car accident.
For information about auto insurance, visit the Montana Consumer Guide to Auto Insurance website.
Statute of Limitations
Montana has a two (2) year statute of limitations for property damage claims and a three (3) year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. If the victim fails to file a lawsuit within the allotted time period, the victim is barred from pursuing the negligent driver in court.
Small Claims Courts
In Montana, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. The jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of $7,000, exclusive of filing fees and court costs.
For information about how to submit a small claim, see the Montana Department of Justice Guide to Small Claims Court handbook.
Montana Government Tort Claims – Sovereign Immunity
In Montana, it is possible to submit a claim against a governmental agency or its employees for personal injury or property damage as a result of negligence on the part of the governmental agency or its employees.
The claim must refer to an lawful action on the part of the governmental agency or employee performed in the scope of their duties. If the injury or property damage occurred as a result of an unlawful action, then the claimant can sue only the person(s) who caused injury or property damage individually. The governmental agency would not be liable.
Montana Constitution: Section 2-18
If Melissa, an engineer with the Billings Planning Department, ran a red light on her way to a worksite and caused an accident, then the City of Billings would be liable for the property damage and personal injuries caused by her.
If Melissa stopped for a few drinks and became intoxicated before heading to a worksite and causing an accident, then the City of Billings can claim sovereign immunity. Melissa performed an unlawful act and was not acting in the scope of her duties when she became intoxicated on her way to the worksite.
To seek compensation for damages, injured parties would have to sue Melissa personally. The determination of whether or not Melissa was acting within the scope of her duties would have to be decided during a trial.
Montana places a cap of $750,000 for each claim and $1.5 million for each occurrence as the maximum amounts of damages that can be claimed against a government agency or its employees.
Montana Constitution: Section 2-18
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