When an officer pulls a driver to the side of the road or stops at the scene of a crash, many people try to get a good look and ponder what might have happened.
And after five Montana Highway Patrol vehicles were hit in five separate crashes within the last month alone, authorities are reminding people that those bright emergency lights are there to warn motorists about a dangerous situation.
One of the vehicles was totaled and the other four are currently being evaluated by MHP's insurance carrier, and all were hit after pulling to the side of the road to assist or stop another vehicle. The troopers were not at fault in any of the crashes.
Officials say it is highly unusual to have MHP vehicles involved in that many crashes in that amount of time.
"It’s definitely a huge increase,” Sgt. Jay Nelson of the Montana Highway Patrol said.
“We occasionally have patrol cars getting hit,” Nelson said, but a cluster like the one in the past month is exceptionally rare.
Highway patrol vehicles have directional lights going forward and backward, reflective bumpers, and a whole slew of additional lights to warn people of their presence on the side of the road.
“Troopers wear protective vests as well,” Nelson said.
Having more than one trooper respond to a scene helps visibility immensely, Nelson added.
“We do everything we can to have multiple troopers respond to each crash,” Nelson said, but in a state the size of Montana with the amount of highways and roads, that’s just not possible.
Nelson thinks the poor weather over the last month contributed to the rise in crashes, but people driving “beyond the ability of their vehicle” is the real culprit.
“Slow down,” Nelson advises. “When you see those lights ... slow down well below the speed limit. If you have to crawl by, that’s fine.”
Nelson speaks from experience. In October, he was writing a report while sitting in his MHP vehicle along Country Club Road near Helena when it was hit in broad daylight by a driver who didn't read the snowy road correctly.
“It was like getting hit with a sledgehammer in the back of my head,” Nelson said.
Nelson was able to get back to work soon after the accident, but he wants to remind Montana drivers that being careful is important.
“We as drivers have a responsibility to slow down,” Nelson said.