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Drinking and driving has been a chronic—and deadly—problem on Montana’s roadways for decades. In 2008, Forbes magazine reported that Montana was ranked as the deadliest state in the nation when it came to per capita DUI-related traffic fatalities.

Law and policymakers responded with a list of changes to the Montana legal code, all aimed at ending Montana’s “culture of drinking and driving.” Some changes were monumental: Like banning for the first time open containers of alcohol in moving vehicles.

But Montanans continued to read news stories and watch television reports about Montanans getting their fourth, fifth, sixth DUIs—or more. And they continued hearing the tragic stories of the cost of repeat, drinking and driving: Children left parentless, parents burying a child, two Highway Patrol troopers killed in a span of months, leaving behind families and friends.

In a bi-partisan effort that is 100% public safety-focused, Attorney General Steve Bullock introduced the Montana 24/7 Sobriety Program. Following one year of a pilot study in Lewis and Clark County, Bullock took his idea to the 2011 Montana Legislature, where Rep. Steve Lavin carried the bill. Gov. Brian Schweitzer signed the bill in May of 2011, and on October 1, 2011, was the official launch of the Montana 24/7 Sobriety Program.

Happy Birthday, Montana!

So, where do we stand one year later? Is 24/7 effective? Statistically speaking, yes.

The parameters of 24/7 require a participant, who is ordered by the Judge, to participate in daily alcohol testing, either through twice-daily breath testing or transdermal alcohol monitors, worn 24/7 and set to test automatically every 30 minutes. In late August, the AG’s office reported the milestone of 100,000 portable breath tests on DUI offenders. As of October 1, there have been almost 3 million transdermal alcohol tests performed, and on any given day, 99.7% of all drunk drivers monitored with transdermal monitors had fully compliant Sober Days. That means that 99.7% were not drinking, and they weren’t drinking and driving.

It will take a few years for data analysts to quantify the impact of Montana’s innovative program. But predecessors like North and South Dakota have both shown the impact went far beyond keeping offenders sober while they were in the 24/7 program. Rates of alcohol-related fatalities began to plummet the year South Dakota’s 24/7 Project was launched statewide. From 2006 to 2007, the South Dakota rate of alcohol-related traffic fatalities plummeted 33%—in one year. The highest drop of any state in the nation. Eight years later those officials are teaching jurisdictions as far away as the U.K. how to implement 24/7 programs and make a substantial impact.

Oh, one last thing: Montana’s 24/7 Program is 100% funded by the participants, the lawbreakers. This increase in Public Safety doesn’t cost the taxpayers anything,

Way to Make a Difference, Montana!

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up Administrator

Sobering Up: A blog about drunk driving, alcohol addiction, and criminal justice, is anything but a corporate blog. Sobering Up is an opportunity for anyone interested or involved in the issues of drunk driving, alcohol-fueled crime, alcohol dependence and addiction, and the justice system to participate in the conversation.

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