“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 Montana 24/7 Sobriety Program began 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 in 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.
Representative Steve Lavin, then a sergeant in the Montana Highway Patrol – and now MHP Colonel – who had seen two of his co-workers and friends killed by drinking and driving, carried House Bill 106.
There are currently 27 twice daily test sites statewide. The statewide statistics continue to be enormously positive: Over 1,631,356 twice daily tests have been administered, with a 99.7% success rate as of 12/31/2022.
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. Consistent monitoring, clear expectations and immediate accountability for any infraction are key components to the programs success.
It is simple, low-cost and effective.