Special traffic team patrols Missoula
Montana’s Safety Enforcement Traffic Team is a special group of five Montana Highway Patrol troopers and one sergeant. As a team, they rotate between Montana’s seven largest cities -- Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula.
SETT’s only focus is to make the roads safer through traffic enforcement. Most nights, their primary focus is drunk driving and making sure people are wearing seat belts but they look for all traffic violations.
This week they’re patrolling the Missoula area. NBC Montana went with Trooper Luke Burson for a ride-along to see some of the traffic stops they make.
“We go to a different town every time, and we just saturate the area. We basically make a bunch of traffic stops -- just get out there show that we’re out there,” said Burson.
He says just their extra presence helps deter people from drunk driving and speeding.
People using their cellphones while driving is another problem Burson would like to see less of.
“There’s nothing on your phone that is worth risking your life and everybody else’s life,” said Burson.
The Montana Department of Transportation funds SETT. The team spends eight days working together, then has six days off before moving on to their next region.
The Montana Highway Patrol says the SETT has had a positive effect on the areas they patrol.
DUI and drug arrests dropped to 277 in 2017, down from 416 in 2015. The number of speeding citations they issued in 2017 was 499, down from 1,212 in 2015. The total number of citation and warnings for all violations dropped from 10,468 in 2015 to 8,731 in 2017.
Burson says he wants people to understand how dangerous vehicles are.
“It’s a weapon. I mean, it’s a 2,000-pound weapon,” said Burson.
He wants people to think about that the next time they want to drink and drive or ride without a seat belt. Burson says 70 percent of people who die in car crashes aren’t wearing a seat belt.
During the hour and a half we spent on patrol with Burson, he pulled over four people. Two of them were not wearing a seat belt.
The SETT will remain in Missoula through the weekend. Their next stop is Whitefish.