In the two-and-a-half months since Montana’s statewide 24/7 Sobriety Program went into effect, almost 11,000 alcohol breath tests have been administered across nine counties – and more than 99 percent have tested negative for alcohol.
“The results speak for themselves,” Attorney General Steve Bullock said Tuesday. “Setting up this program is not always easy for counties, but these statistics prove that it’s possible to change the culture of drinking and driving in Montana – one person at a time.”
The 24/7 Sobriety Program began in the spring of 2010 as a pilot project between the Attorney General’s Office and Lewis and Clark County. Under 24/7, people accused of a second or subsequent DUI charge can be ordered to undergo twice daily alcohol breath tests, or they can choose to wear a blood alcohol monitoring bracelet. Both are paid for by the driver, not the government.
Judges routinely order Montanans accused of DUI to abstain from drinking alcohol, but before 24/7 there was no way to verify that people followed the judge’s order.
Nearly 99 percent of tests administered by Lewis and Clark County during the pilot phase came back negative for signs of alcohol.
Based on that success, Bullock asked the 2011 Legislature to expand the program statewide. The result was House Bill 106, sponsored by Rep. Steve Lavin, R-Kalispell, a Montana Highway Patrol Officer in the Flathead who had seen fellow troopers injured, even killed, by drunken drivers. HB106 passed with broad, bipartisan margins.
The law went into effect on Oct. 1, 2011 and has been praised as a simple, low-cost and effective way to deal with repeat DUI offenders.
Eight counties have so far opted to launch the program. They are: Yellowstone, Flathead, Butte-Silver Bow, Anaconda-Deer Lodge, Powell, Lincoln, Big Horn and Custer. A total of nine counties, including Lewis and Clark, are now running 24/7.
A total of 10,962 tests have been administered by those counties since October. Some 99.41 percent have tested negative for alcohol.
Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said he was pleased his county was one of the first to participate.
“We were grateful to be one of the first counties to implement it and we look forward to it continuing to be a successful program that keeps our motorists and our roads safe,” Twito said. “My hats off to the attorney general’s office, my staff and Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder for getting the program going. This was a collaborative effort and great things can be accomplished when people work together.”
In addition to the eight counties who launched the program initially, another 12 are working toward launching their own programs in February.
“This is a program that not only changes behavior and save lives, but also save the taxpayers’ money. Every offender that we can keep in the program, is one less offender sitting in our jails or unable to continue employment,” Bullock said.