Montana Rolls Out Statewide Program to Crackdown on DUI

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(Billings, MT – YPR) – Montana’s largest county has a new tool to crack down on repeat DUI offenders. A new law went into effect October 1, 2011 that allowed the 24/7 Sobriety Program to go statewide.

Montana has the highest DUI rates in the nation.

Yellowstone County will launch the program Friday (October 7, 2011). Earlier this week, a Yellowstone County District Judge ordered a Billings woman accused of endangering a 3-year old child in a drunk driving hit-and-run crash into the program if she is released from jail.

According to the latest report from the Yellowstone County DUI Task Force, the county ranked the worst in the state because of the number of DUI-related crashes in 2009. That year there were 365 alcohol-related wrecks; 11 people died as a result.

“Unfortunately in Yellowstone County we do have a problem with DUI,” says County Attorney Scott Twito. “Repeat offenders continue to terrorize people on our roadways.”

He and other law enforcement officials hope the 24/7 Sobriety Program will prompt repeat offenders to stop drinking and make Montana’s roadways safer.

Under the program, the court orders participation for offenders with a second or subsequent DUI. It could be as a condition of bond, pre-trial release or probation and parole.

Participants pay the $2/test fee and must report two times a day for a breathalyzer test.

Yellowstone County Undersheriff Kevin Evans demonstrating the breathalyzer test for the 24/7 Program

“If they blow zeros,” says Yellowstone County Undersheriff Kevin Evans, “they’re free to go.”  If they don’t they will wait 20 minutes and re-test. “If it’s another positive sample, the detention staff will come out and take ‘em back there in the detention facility.” The court will also be notified the person is in contempt of court.

“The two things that strike me about 24/7 were one:  it curbs the behavior – first and foremost – of the repeat offender,” says County Attorney Scott Twito. “But two, it holds them accountable, not only to themselves and to the courts.”

Montana based House Bill 106 on a program in South Dakota.

State Attorney General Steve Bullock says the tougher laws cracking down on DUI passed by the 2011 Montana Legislature should keep Montana’s highways safer. He says that’s been the experience in South Dakota.

“They used to be with us in having some of the most dangerous highways in the country as it relates to alcohol-related fatalities per mile traveled per population,” Bullock says. He says between 2006 to 2007, those fatalities in South Dakota dropped 33% while at the same time in Montana, fatalities increased 2%.

While Bullock is hopeful Montana can reduce that number, he’s not holding out 24/7 as a sliver bullet.

“This isn’t something that will change our whole environment and change attitudes,” Bullock says about the culture of drinking and driving. “It (the law) went into effect October 1st. The world won’t change by November 1st, but what this will do is make sure that those offenders will be treated as individuals. We’re treating them as individuals to try to address the problems that they have.”