“Drinking and driving has been a chronic – and deadly — problem on Montana’s roadways for decades. In 2008, Montana was ranked as the deadliest state in the nation when it came to per capita DUI-related traffic fatalities”
Law and policy makers 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. We 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.
Against this backdrop, the Attorney General’s Office proposed the Montana 24/7 Sobriety Program in March of 2010. The program was initially run as a pilot in Lewis and Clark County.
Under the program, people accused of their second or subsequent drunken driving offense can be ordered by a judge to take twice-daily alcohol breath tests as a condition of their release from jail pending trial. Or they may be ordered to wear an alcohol-monitoring bracelet. Some offenders can also be sentenced to the program if they plead or are found guilty of DUI.
The results out of Lewis and Clark County were astounding: Out of thousands of tests administered, more than 99 percent came back clean. Offenders were staying clean.
The program is structured to have the offender pay the cost of the monitoring, so the program is essentially free to counties and taxpayers.
Buoyed by the success of the pilot program, the Attorney General’s Office took the idea to the 2011 Legislature. Rep. Steve Lavin, R-Kalispell, and a sergeant in the Montana Highway Patrol who had seen two of his co-workers and friends killed by drinking and driving, carried the bill.
With broad, bi-partisan support, House Bill 106 passed and was signed into law by Gov. Brian Schweitzer in May of 2011.
The Attorney General’s Office has continued to play an important role in helping counties launch the program. Currently, 54 counties are running the program and more have attended Attorney General’s Office training to launch their own programs soon.The statewide statistics continue to be enormously positive: Over 680,000 twice daily tests have been administered, with a 99.7% success rate.
The program verifies what Montana judges have consistently required of DUI defendants – that they stay out of bars and places where alcohol is served and that they abstain from drinking. The 24/7 Program verifies that offenders are complying with judges orders.
It is simple, low-cost and effective.
This office has heard other success stories – stories from offenders in the program who report that 24/7 has helped them be accountable and more effective as parents and citizens.
National 24/7 Sobriety Program Summit
The office of Attorney General Fox partnered with the Montana Highway Patrol to host the first-ever National 24/7 Sobriety Program Conference at Big Sky, September 13-15, 2015. Approximately 200 people attended from across the continental United States as well as the Northern Mariana Islands; among those in attendance were seven Attorneys General.
In November 2012, the Rand Corporation published a study in the Journal of American Health which indicated South Dakota saw a 12% reduction in recidivism rates for DUI offenses, and a 9% reduction in recidivism rates for domestic violence offenses following adoption of the 24/7 Sobriety Program. Montana, which implemented the program in 2011, reported a 30% decrease in alcohol-related motor vehicle fatalities in 2013, while at the same time, overall highway fatalities increased by approximately 10%.
Montana currently has 39 counties participating in the 24/7 Sobriety Program utilizing twice daily testing and/or SCRAM testing methods. Over 680,000 twice daily tests have been administered, with a 99.7% success rate. The program works because it provides offenders with consistent monitoring, clear expectations, and immediate accountability for any infraction.
States using the 24/7 Sobriety Program include: Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Alaska. States which have a pilot program implemented include: Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Georgia. States that are authorized and ready to implement a pilot program include: Washington, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Florida.
The Montana Department of Justice looks forward to more opportunities to share information about this award-winning program. For questions regarding future 24/7 Summits, contact Kristin Banchero at [email protected]. For more information about Montana’s 24/7 Sobriety Program, contact Sergeant Lacie Wickum at [email protected].