Transportation Nation

Montana Considers Legal Limit for Marijuana In DUI Laws

Friday, March 15, 2013

(Helena, MT – YPR) – Montana lawmakers are considering whether to join a dozen other states in setting a legal limit for the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana in its DUI laws.

“This bill is not an anti- or pro-marijuana bill,” says House Bill 168’s sponsor David “Doc” Moore, R-Missoula. “It’s about impaired driving.”

The bill seeks to set the legal limit at 5 ng/ml of delta-9 tetrahyrocannabinol. It’s the same limit set in Montana’s medical marijuana laws.

He says now that Montana’s neighbors -- Washington and Colorado -- have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, he’s concerned impaired drivers may be traveling through the state.

Montana Highway Patrol Sargent Curt Sager trains law enforcement officials in drug recognition. He says while DUI cases involving alcohol are on the decline in the state, marijuana continues to escalate.

He told the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2010 that 372 of the DUI cases involved marijuana; in 2011 that rose to 476; and last year it grew again to 486 cases.

Sager adds the numbers are growing for DUI fatalities involving marijuana. He says they now account to ¼ of the cases.

“So obviously this is a very dangerous, deadly problem that we’re encountering on our roadways,” he says.

He says setting a legal limit for Delta-9 THC for marijuana is based on the .08 blood alcohol content (BAC) in the DUI laws.

Retired chiropractor Pat Pardis is a member of the Montana Cannabis Information Association. He’s against the bill, saying science is inconclusive as to whether the 5 ng/ml limit is accurate to designate an impaired driver.

“We do not believe that per se laws really improve safety on the highway,” he says. “It may make it easier to put somebody in jail or into a treatment program.”

HB 168 passed through the Montana House on a 80-18 vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee did not immediately act on the bill.

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Transportation Nation

Riding Along on the DUI Run With Billings Police

Monday, March 05, 2012

Just before midnight, Billings Police Officer Marc Snider witnessed a young woman drive the wrong way through downtown and then roll over the median in a bank parking lot. He stopped her on the wrong side of the street by the Billings Gazette. Fellow officer Brandon Ihde drove over to assist.

(photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

“I’m officer Ihde with the Billings Police," he says. "Officer Snider called me over because I’m part of the STEP team. So I do drug interdiction, DUI, traffic and things like that.”

(photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

He leads the woman to the sidewalk and conducts a field sobriety test, which Snider records with the video camera in Ihde’s car. “Okay, Ashley. Bring your hands back here. I’m going to place you under arrest for DUI. We’re going to go down to the DUI center and we’re going to do some more testing down there. Okay? It’s not going to be quite so cold down there.”

The DUI center is at the Yellowstone County Detention Facility. It has three testing rooms – one each for the Billings Police Department, Montana Highway Patrol, and the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s office. Red lines are on the floor for the sobriety test and an Intoxilyzer is in the corner for breath tests. A video camera records activities in the room.

Ihde reads the Montana implied consent advisory to Ashley, then asks: "Will you take a breath test?" He then walks her through the process. “What I need you to do is put your lips on this small section here. You need to take a long, deep breath and blow just like you’re blowing up a balloon. Okay? But don’t grab onto the hose because I don’t want you to break that off. Okay. Long deep breath. Blow really hard. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going."

She blows a .104. Under Montana law, .08 or greater is considered to be under the influence. Ashley then refused to answer any questions or make a statement, so the interview was stopped and officers walk her to the detention facility.

In addition to a half-dozen traffic stops, this was just one of four DUI calls for Ihde that night. And he uses the same procedure for each suspect.

Prosecutors asked the 2011 Montana Legislature to close a loophole they said allowed repeat offenders to not be held accountable. The Montana attorney general’s office testified that nearly 3,000 suspected drunk drivers refused a breath test in 2010, a record. Those who refused to take breath test that year was greater than the number of people convicted of a first offense DUI. Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 42 and it was signed into law last April.

Law enforcement officials across the state are now using the telephonic search warrants for suspects with a prior refusal, past conviction, or pending offense, and Officer Ihde calls one in. “Judge Knisely. This is Officer Ihde, badge number 316, with the Billings Police Department. I am requesting your assistance with a telephonic search warrant for a DUI investigation for a second or subsequent offense. My testimony is being recorded and Officer Firebaugh, badge number 398, is my witness. Will you swear me in please?"

Ihde uses the affidavit in support of a telephonic search warrant to tell the judge the reasons and circumstances for seeking permission to draw blood from the suspect. Permission is granted and the warrant is served. Four officers from the detention center join the two Billings Police officers. The woman is placed into a restraining chair, then a member of the facility’s nursing staff draws 2 vials of blood for testing. The process is videotaped; all of the documentation is submitted to the District Court.

(photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

It was about 1:30 Saturday morning when Officer Ihde called Judge Mary Jane Knisely for telephonic search warrant request. Later in her chambers, Knisely says the phone calls are part of the job. “I answer the phone pretty easily now," she says, "and I am kind of a light sleeper.” She adds that she makes sure she's taking notes "so I am awake and I know what I am doing. And I am hitting the four corners of the search warrant.”

The judges take turns answering these phone calls. District Judge Russ Fagg also takes the calls in stride, even if they come in the middle of the night. “I think it is our responsibility to take care of the cases in our district," he says, adding that although he has turned down warrant requests in the past, " I have not turned down any telephonic search warrants for a DUI blood test yet." He explains: "Under the U.S. constitution, they have to show probable cause for the request. So I look at what is their probable cause to do that. And do they have probable cause to think, to believe the person is under the influence of alcohol. And if I ever determine that I don’t think they have that then I would certainly turn it down. But I haven’t done it so far.”

The judges and prosecutors say it's too early to tell if the word is getting out about the telephonic search warrants seeking a blood test for DUI arrests, or if it has meant more defendants entering a guilty plea rather than have their case heard in court.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: October Snow Snarls Northeast Transit, Massachusetts Judges Go Easy on Drunk Drivers

Monday, October 31, 2011

Top stories on TN:

A plan to expand managed toll lanes on highways around Florida has strong support. (Link)

There's no recession at the busy Port of Houston. (Link)

Downed utility pole on New York's Metro-North rail line following a rare October snowstorm (photo by John Wagner/Metropolitan Transportation Authority)

Massachusetts judges tend to go easy on drunk drivers. (Boston Globe)

The AP fact-checks Republican claims that $1 out of every $10 in transportation aid is spent wasteful projects. The verdict: "To make their case, lawmakers have exaggerated and misrepresented some projects that have received aid." (Link)

Union Pacific says California's planned high-speed rail project poses safety risks to its freight operations -- and disregards the company's property rights (Los Angeles Times). Meanwhile, the state releases its high-speed rail business plan tomorrow. (Mercury News)

NY Daily News: table the city's Taxi of Tomorrow until it's wheelchair-accessible. (Link)

Speaking of cabs: Taxi TV is making it easier to lower the volume -- or hit the mute button. (New York Times)

And: A NY Times editorial supports the city's crackdown on unnecessary honking.

Women are still sitting in the back on Brooklyn's B110 bus. (Wall Street Journal)

Qantas will resume flights after regulators ordered an end to work stoppages. (Marketplace)

Following a rare October snowstorm, two NJ Transit rail lines will be out of service Monday (; there are also some disruptions on Metro-North (

DC's Tourmobile is closing up shop. (WAMU)

And: Happy Halloween!

Halloween comes to the NYC subway (photo by Kate Hinds)


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Transportation Nation

After School Lets Out: "One Hundred Deadliest Days for Drivers"

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

(Houston, Texas) In Texas they call it the “One Hundred Deadliest Days for Drivers”.  It’s the summer stretch where students are finished school and taking to the roads. Statistics from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety say 366 of all fatal collisions were caused by teenagers in 2009, the most recent year statistics were available.

Now the Houston-Galveston Area Council is trying to reduce that number through a new documentary “Chronicles of a Teen Killer”.

Jeff Kaufman, Transport Safety Coordinator with the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) says the idea started with local police Assistant Chief Vicky King.  “She had come up with the idea that she wanted to do a documentary about the dangers of driving while intoxicated and gear it towards younger drivers."

Erica Moriarty, a local high school senior, was one of 13 teens recruited to work on the project. Moriarty would regularly see her peers drinking too much at parties -- and think it was okay to drive home.

The documentary  opens with a young girl slurring her words saying how she wanted to “get drunk and get her party on." The same teen later on admits that she plans on driving home. Some of the teen producers went to the local detox facility and the morgue to see the real side of what drinking and driving can do.

One of these stories in the documentary is told by ‘Milly’. Milly was 17 when she got drunk and drove her three friends home -- one of whom, Danny, never made it. While recording for the documentary Moriarty  said Milly’s story was so powerful that the room was silent, “We were a team of 13 teenagers, we were never quiet we were always talking. I just remember that being super impactful because it really showed what the consequences are in just one person.”

Although the accident happened seven years ago, while recounting it Milly breaks down and tearfully relates how much her one mistake cost everyone, including herself. “I had everything in my world. I had amazing parents and family and I had my whole life in front of me and Danny had, Danny had her whole life ahead of her. She was smart and amazing and the center of everyone’s world…everyone loved her So I took her promising future and all the opportunities that she was gonna have away from her.”

Since its release five weeks ago the documentary has received nearly six thousand hits on YouTube.

For the full story, listen to the radio version at KUHF.

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Transportation Nation

Tougher DUI Bills In MT Closer To Becoming Law

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

(Helena, MT-Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – A bill that would close a loophole in Montana law that allows suspected drunken drivers avoid taking a breath/blood test is one step closer to becoming law.

The Montana House of Representatives gave final approval to Senate Bill 42 after making a few changes. If the Montana Senate agrees, the final stop for the bill is Governor Brian Schweitzer’s desk.

The bill is part of a package of bills aimed at addressing DUI in Montana.

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Transportation Nation

Montana Lawmaker: Gallows for 3rd DUI

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

(Helena, MT-Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – Montana Legislators want to catch DUI offenders early and hit them hard.

DUI is one of the major issues before the 2011 Montana Legislature this session. State Representative Kris Hansen, R-Havre, is sponsoring a bill that would make a third DUI conviction a felony. She says the idea is to force people into detox earlier.

"People who get a 3rd DUI obviously have an alcohol problem," Hansen says. "If you let them go to 4th you're taking a risk that they've committed several more DUI offenses which they did not get caught. They are putting people at risk."

Currently, if someone commits a 4th of subsequent DUI offense they may be  sentenced to the Warm Springs Addictions Treatment and Change program, or WATCh.

Under House Bill 299, offenders instead would be allowed to stay in their home communities, but they would have to submit to mandatory supervision and alcohol testing and monitoring.

Hansen says she was told not to introduce this bill because it’s too expensive.

Under House Bill 299, offenders would be supervised by the Montana Department of Corrections Probation and Parole offices. The initial cost estimate, says Hansen, was $4.5 million dollars. That has since been cut in half, but Hansen still disputes that figure.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ken Peterson, R-Billings, voted against the bill in his committee, but he’s now in favor of the measure. He says it’s a primary responsibility to get chronically impaired drivers off the road.

“If we can help them also that’s fine,” says Peterson. “This is the best bill I’ve seen come along this term that’s going to slap them alongside the head and get their attention. They know that when they get a 3rd DUI it’s a felony.”

But it’s not tough enough for state Representative Alan Hale, R-Basin. He says that’s why he’s against the measure.

“I would say we need to maybe look in a different direction,” he says. “I have a suggestion that maybe we should just build a gallows down here and if they get a 3rd offense we just take ‘em down and put the gallows to work and maybe that would cure the problem.”

The Montana House gave preliminary approval to the bill.

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Transportation Nation

Montana Considers Tactics To Deal With Refusals From DUI Suspects For Breath Tests

Friday, January 21, 2011

(Helena, MT – Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – Montana lawmakers are considering a pair of bills to deal with the rising numbers of suspected drunk drivers refusing breath tests.

Montana has the highest number of drunk driving cases per capita in the nation.

The bills seek to give law enforcement authorities easier access to a judge to issue a search warrant to get a breath or blood test if they receive a refusal.

The Montana Department of Justice reports that last year 2,859 drivers refused to submit to breath or blood tests after having been stopped by law enforcement on suspicion of DUI.

“This number represents a trend of more than 2,800 refusals annually during 2008, 2009, and 2010,” says Assistant Attorney General Ali Bovingdon.

She says 2010 had the highest number of refusals recorded over a three year period.

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Transportation Nation

Montana Tackles Repeat DUI Offenders with 24/7 Sobriety Program

Thursday, January 20, 2011

(Helena, MT – Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – Montana lawmakers are considering several bills this week to crack down on drunk driving. Recently there have been high profile deaths, including two cases of drunk drivers killing Montana Highway Patrol officers.

MT Attorney General Steve Bullock showing the House Judiciary Committee a picture of MHP Trooper Michael Haynes car after being hit by a drunk driver

Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito says one of the hardest cases he had to prosecute involved DUI. Chad Shipman was convicted of hitting road engineer Richard Dean Roebling who was working on Main Street in Billings. Shipman drove away from the scene.

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Transportation Nation

Medical Marijuana Supporters Fear Montana Drugged Driving Law

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

(Helena, MT – Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) – Montana lawmakers are considering a bill that would revise the impaired driving law to add that any amount of a dangerous drug is a violation.

But supporters of medical marijuana worry House Bill 33 would criminalize the nearly 27,000 people who hold medical marijuana cards.

Colonel Mike Tooley, head of the Montana Highway Patrol, says the effects of drugs on driving wasn’t tracked until 2009 but the results are sobering, even in Montana. “In 2010, there were 857 drugged driving cases that measured 18 different drugs,” Tooley says.

In a notable case, Tooley says the man who hit and killed Montana Highway Patrolman Michael Haynes in 2009 had a blood alcohol content of point-one-eight and had high levels of THC in his blood. THC is the main, active chemical in marijuana.

Advocates for medical marijuana say House Bill 33 unfairly targets them because the bill says, quote “driving with any amount of a dangerous drug or its metabolite in a person’s body is a violation.”

Rose Habib is a chemist and cannabis scientist from Missoula. “The presence of metabolites is only indicitive of past use or exposure not of impairment,” she says.  Habib says THC can remain in the body for up to 30 days.

Opponents of the bill worry they’ll be targeted by law enforcement. Not so, say the bill’s supporters who say the burden still lies with law enforcement to show there’s probable cause, such as erratic driving.

The House Judiciary Committee did not immediately vote on the bill.

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Transportation Nation

Bill Seeks To Close Loophole in Montana Traffic Law On Hit and Run Accidents

Thursday, January 13, 2011

(Helena, Montana--Jackie Yamanaka, Yellowstone Public Radio) Montana lawmakers are considering a bill aimed at closing a loophole a state law involving traffic accidents where the alleged perpetrator flees the scene.

Senate Bill 68 would clarify that a driver has a duty to remain at the scene of an accident involving death, personal injury, or damage to a vehicle.

The law is currently a Catch-22, says Montana Department of Justice prosecutor Ole Olson.

He told the Senate Judiciary Committee a driver is required to stop only if he knows he’s injured or killed a pedestrian, for example.  But the driver won’t know that, says Olson, unless he has stopped.

“And what happens is someone who doesn’t want to talk to the police, doesn’t want to be involved because they’ve been drinking has every incentive to close their eyes and continue down the road,” Olson says.

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Transportation Nation

Montana, Leading the Nation on DUIs, Poised For Crackdown

Thursday, January 06, 2011

(Helena, MT -- Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) -UPDATED Montana lawmakers are poised to crackdown on drunk drivers during the 2011 Montana Legislative session.

Per mile and per capita, Montana leads the nation in fatalities where alcohol is a contributing factor," says Kevin O'Brien, spokesman for the Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock.

O'Brien says that the number of convictions for felony DUI's in Montana rose 39% from 2009 to 2010.  A person will receive the felony DUI designation for any 4th or subsequent DUI conviction. He notes there's been a moderate decrease in the number of first time convictions but the number of repeat offenders keeps going up.

As of today, lawmakers have introduced or requested over 30 bills (or bill drafts) to deal with impaired drivers. This includes making it a crime to refuse a breathalyzer test when stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence (DUI). State Attorney General Steve Bullock has said some 3,000 suspected drunk drivers refused the breath test last year, and he supports efforts to strengthen DUI laws.

According to an op-ed in the Billings Gazette, "DUI refusal is the bane of prosecutors. A refusal case is one of the most difficult types of criminal cases to try because the key piece of evidence — the suspects' blood alcohol level — is missing...According to Bullock, more people have refused the breath test than have been convicted of first-offense DUI this year."

It is not unusual for the courts to deal with offenders who have multiple DUI convictions on their records. For example, a man with nine DUI convictions was sentenced last August to 13 months with the Montana Department of Corrections. The judge said he would have meted out a longer sentence if one was allowed under Montana law.

The Montana Legislature convened Monday and is scheduled to adjourn at the end of April.

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Transportation Nation

New York City's 10,000 Designated Drivers

Thursday, December 02, 2010

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation)  The New York City Department of Transportation announced today that it will be handing out thousands of pre-paid debit cards this holiday season as part of its anti-drunk driving efforts.

You the Man -- as the campaign is known -- offers a find-a-ride search engine, sobriety tests, and a general reminder that the city has 10,000 designated drivers--also known as cabbies.

There's also an iPhone app that has a designated driver picker, as well as a blood alcohol level calculator (although as one reviewer put it:  "if you're buzzed you prob shouldn't base a decision to drive on an iPhone app.")

Beginning next week, the NYC DOT will begin distributing 2,000 free rides home in the form of pre-paid $25 debit cards, programmed for use in taxis and livery vehicles--as well as MTA, PATH and NJ Transit ticketing machines.  To find out where to get a card, follow You the Man on Twitter or Facebook.

As we reported earlier, presumably you can avail yourself of the You the Man services even if you don’t have a car--but just happen to be out and about, needing a ride home. Even if you're sober.

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Transportation Nation

'Leandra's Law,' and Ignition Locks for all DUIs in New York

Monday, August 16, 2010

The crash was fit for a rallying cry.  On October 11, 2009, Carmen Huertas was driving six children to her house for a slumber party.  She had been drinking, and, one of the kids in the car said, asked her young passengers to raise their hands if they thought "we're gonna get into an accident."

Huertas did crash the car, and the result was the death of 11-year-old Leandra Rosado.  As he grieved, her father started a campaign to make New York state's laws the toughest in the nation.  A month later, a new law was unanimously passed in Albany, and signed by the governor.

"Leandra's Law" as its now called, makes it a felony to drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs while carrying passengers age 15 and under.  It went into effect statewide on Sunday.  UCLA transportation scholar Eric A. Morris says it does something even more important, however.

It requires any driver convicted of DWI to install an ignition interlock system on any car they drive.

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Transportation Nation

Will You Drink and Drive This Weekend?

Friday, July 16, 2010

In an average year, Americans report that they drive under the influence of alcohol as many 159 million times.  Maybe more.  By the CDC's count, one person dies every 45 minutes in a crash that involves an alcohol-impaired driver, and these wrecks cost the country more than $51 billion [the way the government adds this up is interesting: among other things, men are more likely to get in alcohol-related crashes, and lost earnings are more severe].

But curbing this practice is tough.  The strongest factor, according to UCLA transportation scholar Eric A. Morris is better enforcement of the law.  Morris is wrapping up a series on the Freakonomics blog about drinking and driving.  Among his writings is the stunning fact that, by the time the average person is caught driving drunk, they've gotten away with it 87 times.  Morris will be on The Takeaway next Tuesday with more.  -- Collin Campbell

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