Montana Department of Justice

Driving Safety

Driving Under the Influence | Seatbelt Facts & Use | Speed Limits

Studded Tires – Drivers may use studded tires on Montana roads only from October 1 until May 31.

Each year in Montana, over 200 people die in traffic crashes; far too many. There are a few things we can all do to protect ourselves and our children—always wear seatbelts, drive within the speed limit, and don’t drink and drive. These are simple measures that save lives.

Driving Under the Influence

Driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol, drugs or both is more than illegal—it can be deadly.

In Montana there are a number of laws related to impaired driving, but here are a few basics:

  • At this time, the alcohol concentration limit in Montana is .08, with the number referring to grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood or grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath. For drivers under the age of 21 it is .02.
  • Drivers in Montana are considered to have given consent to blood or breath tests to determine the presence of alcohol or drugs. An arrested person may refuse to submit to such a test, but Montana law then allows a peace officer to seize the driver license. The license may then be suspended or revoked and the length of the suspension depends on whether it is a first refusal or second or subsequent refusal.
  • The penalties for a first-offense drunk-driving conviction include up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Parts of the imprisonment may be suspended, pending the completion of a court-ordered chemical dependency program.
  • Vehicles may be forfeited on the second or subsequent DUI.
  • A fourth or subsequent DUI is a felony.

The Montana DUI statutes begin at 61-8-401 of the Montana Code Annotated.

Seatbelt Facts & Use

In 2009, 171 occupants died on Montana highways in crashes involving passenger vehicles. Over 62 percent of them—107 drivers and passengers—either didn’t use or improperly used their seatbelts. In all likelihood, most, if not all of the 68 people who were killed because they were partially or completely ejected would be alive today had they been wearing their seatbelts.

Buckling up on every trip—not just the long distance ones—can save lives. Not wearing a seatbelt doubles your chances of being seriously hurt in a crash. Remember that most accidents occur at speeds less than 40 miles per hour, often within 25 miles of home.

Seatbelts and air bags are meant to work together to keep drivers and passengers safe. The presence of air bags in a vehicle doesn’t mean seatbelts are unnecessary.

In the United States, auto accidents are the leading cause of paraplegia (from damage to the spinal cord).

The Montana Seatbelt Use Act requires the use of seatbelts by the driver and each occupant of each vehicle. State law also requires child safety restraint systems for children under the age of 6 and weighing less than 60 pounds. A few drivers and passengers are excluded from the law (see Exemptions below), including people unable to use seatbelts due to a medical condition.

At this time, Montana does not have a “primary” seatbelt law. Under primary laws, law enforcement personnel may make traffic stops solely for failure to use a seatbelt.

The penalty for failure to use a seatbelt is $20. The penalty is not counted as a misdemeanor, it may not be counted as a moving violation—for purposes of suspending a driver license, for example—and it is not counted against a driver’s record.

The penalty for failure to use a child safety restraint system is a fine of not more than $100.

Why Buckle Up?

Seatbelts minimize the effects of vehicle crashes on the human body. In most crashes, there are two collisions. The first involves the vehicle striking an object, then buckling and bending until it comes to a stop. The second, the “human collision,” is more costly and damaging. When the body strikes a hard surface, it comes to a stop within a very short distance. Because the hard surface has little give, the human body must absorb most of the force of the impact. Properly adjusted and fastened seatbelts distribute the forces of the rapidly decelerating body over a larger area, while stretching to absorb some of the force. In addition, belts hold the body in place while the car crushes and slows down.

Whether a person is belted or not often becomes the difference between life and death. While researchers may differ by a few percentage points either way, figures from seatbelt studies reveal:

  • Seatbelts can reduce the number of serious injuries by 50 percent.
  • Seatbelts can reduce fatalities by 40 to 60 percent.

Highway Patrol Annual Reports provide a number of charts relating to seatbelt use in Montana. For a national perspective, visit Buckle Up America, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s campaign to increase the proper use of safety belts and child safety seats.

Exemptions

Montana law allows the following exemptions:

  • Federal Exemptions – Montana’s seatbelt law exempts occupants of motor vehicles not required to have seatbelts under federal law. The intent of this section is to exempt vehicles that are only occasionally moved on Montana roads and highways, such as farm tractors, road maintenance equipment and well-boring apparatus.
  • Vehicles Manufactured Before 1968 – Motor vehicles manufactured before January 1, 1968, were not required by federal motor vehicle standards to have seatbelts. Drivers and passengers in these vehicles are not required to have or install seatbelts.
  • Buses – Bus drivers of buses manufactured before January 1, 1972, are not required to use seatbelts. Nor are their passengers. (Buses under 10,000 lbs. gross weight and seating 10 or fewer passengers require seatbelt use.)
  • School Bus Passengers – School bus passengers are not required to wear seatbelts. School bus drivers must wear properly adjusted seatbelts.
  • Medical Exemptions – Drivers and passengers are not required to wear seatbelts when they have in their possession a written statement from a licensed physician stating that they are unable to wear a seatbelt for medical reasons. The certification of exemption for medical reasons must be issued on the physician’s letterhead stationery and include the patient’s name, date of birth and address, the date the exemption was issued, a clear statement of medical exemption from seatbelt use and the doctor’s signature. Generally, physicians are very selective in granting medical exemptions.
  • Frequent Stops On The Job – Drivers who make frequent stops with a motor vehicle in their official job duties may apply for an exemption from the Motor Vehicle Division. Requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Exemptions must be carried while on the job as proof for law enforcement. The application for a frequent-stop seatbelt exemption is available as a downloadable form (MVD-SE1).

Speed Limits

Montana’s curvy, mountainous roads and weather—which can change quickly even during summer months—require drivers to be alert to conditions at all times and to adjust speeds accordingly.

Daytime speed limits are in effect from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset. Nighttime speed limits are in effect at any other time. The following speed limits went into effect May 28, 1999. These speed limits apply unless a road or highway is otherwise posted for construction or a local limit. Montana’s speed limit laws begin at 61-8-303 of the Montana Code Annotated.

Speed Limits (in miles per hour)
Type of Highway Cars and Light Trucks Heavy Trucks
(over one ton manufacturer’s rated capacity)
Daytime Nighttime Daytime Nighttime
Interstate 75 75 65 65
Interstate Within Urban Area – Billings, Great Falls and Missoula 65 65 65 65
Two-Lane 70 65 60 55
Careless and Reckless Driving

Laws prohibiting careless or reckless driving are in effect on Montana roads. These laws allow motorists to be stopped even if they are not exceeding the posted speed limit, if the speed at which they are traveling is considered too fast for conditions or dangerous to others on the road.

Careful and Prudent Driving

Montana law also requires motorists to operate their vehicles in a careful and prudent manner and at a reduced rate of speed, taking into account the traffic, weather, visibility and road conditions.

Drivers must operate their vehicles with regard for the safety of people and property and in such a manner that they do not endanger the life, limb, property or other rights of people entitled to use the highways.

Drivers must be aware of:

  • the amount and type of traffic sharing the highway with them. The traffic may be heavy or light and may include trucks, cars, motor homes, farm equipment, motorcycles and bicycles.
  • changing weather conditions—fog, snow, water and ice, for example—that affect visibility and road conditions.
  • the type of vehicle being driven, particularly the condition of the brakes and the weight of the vehicle, which affects braking ability.
  • the character of the highway the driver is traveling. Drivers should adjust their speed for hills or for winding and narrow roads.
  • the presence of intersections, railway grade crossings or pedestrians.
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Attorney General's Office & Legal Services Division

The Attorney General’s Office, headed by Attorney General Tim Fox, and the Legal Services Division function as the lawyers for the State of Montana. The attorneys in the Office have expertise in a wide range of legal topics and handle a broad range of legal cases involving the State of Montana and its people.

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Children’s Justice Bureau

The Children’s Justice Bureau is an agency-wide initiative at the Montana Department of Justice dedicated to IMPROVING how we respond to child victims, DEVELOPING state-of-the-art approaches by keeping up with the newest research and, most importantly, HELPING child victims recover and move on with their lives.

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Division of Criminal Investigation

The Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) at the Montana Department of Justice is involved in many aspects of Montana law enforcement and is integral to the Department dciof Justice’s mission of promoting public safety.

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Forensic Science Division & State Crime Lab

The mission of the Montana Forensic Science Division is to use operationally efficient and financially responsible practices as the laboratory provides accurate, objective, and timely forensic analyses to the criminal justice community in order to maximize value to the citizens of Montana.

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Missing Persons Clearinghouse

The Missing Children Act of 1985 established a Montana Missing Persons Clearinghouse within the Department of Justice. In March 2008, the department implemented a searchable online database that, for the first time, is updated in real time and includes any photos provided by law enforcement.

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Office of Victim Services

The goal of the Office of Victim Services is to provide tools and information to help crime victims recover from their experience and provide them with a range of services available. The criminal justice system can be confusing and intimidating for victims. To assist them as they go through the justice system, the Office of Victim Service is available to answer any questions they may have.

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Central Services Division

The Montana Department of Justice’s Central Services Division provides financial and human resources support for the department. We make sure that everything works for the people Working for Justice. If you’re interested in a rewarding career helping protect the rights and safety of all Montanans, we invite you to join our team of over 800 dedicated employees working across the state.

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Justice Information Technology Services Division

Our Justice Information Technology Services Division (JITSD) provides vital Information Technology (IT) infrastructure upon which Montanans and lojitsdcal and state law enforcement agencies rely for timely, accurate information. JITSD manages the IT systems, services, and interfaces to support nearly 800 DOJ employees, 325 statewide county motor vehicle system users, and over 3,000 Criminal Justice Information Network (CJIN) users across the state.

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Montana Highway Patrol

Montana is rich in natural beauty and history. From Glacier Park in the west to Makoshika Park in the east, the men and women of the Montana Highway Patrol are working hard to make your travels safe and enjoyable. The Highway Patrol’s core values are “Service, Integrity and Respect.” These values are reflected in our commitment to public safety through diligent and fair enforcement of our traffic codes.

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Montana Law Enforcement Academy

The Montana Law Enforcement Academy is the premier law enforcement and public safety educational and training institution for state, county, city and tribal officers throughout the state. The Academy offers entry-level programs referred to as Basic Programs and advanced training through an array of Professional Development Programs.

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Public Safety Officer Standards & Training

The Council was formed in 2007 under 2-15-2029, MCA as an independent Quasi-judicial board. And as allowed by statute the Council adopted Administrative Rules in order to implement the provisions of Title 44, chapter 4, part 4, MCA. Per 44-4-403, MCA the Council is required to set employment and training standards for all Public Safety Officers as defined in 44-4-401, MCA and in addition the Council shall provide for the certification or recertification of public safety officers and for the suspension or revocation of certification of public safety officers.

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Gambling Control Division

Through the Gambling Control Division, the Department of Justice regulates all forms of gambling in Montana, except for the Montana Lottery and horse racing. The legislature has charged the division with maintaining a uniform regulatory climate that is fair and free of corrupt influences. The division is also responsible for collecting gambling revenue for state and local governments.

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Motor Vehicle Division

The mission of the Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) is to identify and promote efficient, cost-effective programs that benefit the interests, safety, and well-being of Montana citizens through licensing, registering, and regulating the motoring activities of the public. The MVD continuously strives for excellence in customer service. Streamlining the way we do business has allowed us to improve our efficiency and make our services more convenient for our customers.

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Natural Resource Damage Program

The Natural Resource Damage Program (NRDP) was created in 1990 to prepare the state’s lawsuit against the Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO) for injuries to the natural resources in the Upper Clark Fork River Basin (UCFRB). Decades of mining and mineral processing operations in and around Butte and Anaconda released substantial quantities of hazardous substances into the Upper Clark Fork River Basin between Butte and Milltown. These hazardous substances extensively degraded the area’s natural resources.

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Office of Consumer Protection

Enforce consumer laws designed to protect the consumer from unfair or deceptive business practices. Enforce statutes relating to telephone solicitation and telemarketing. Provide information to consumers about their basic rights under consumer laws. Assist consumers by distributing consumer education materials including scam and consumer alerts. Investigate false, misleading, or deceptive trade practices.

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Human Trafficking

The Montana Department of Justice has a continued commitment to victims of human trafficking. In partnership with federal authorities, our agency plays a key role in the investigation, enforcement, and prosecution of crimes related to human trafficking in Montana. This form of modern day slavery does happen here in Big Sky Country.

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Prescription Drug Abuse Awareness Program

Montana’s deadliest drugs aren’t made in secret labs and they don’t always come from dealers on the corner. They’re in our own medicine cabinets. Each year, prescription drug abuse contributes to the deaths of more than 300 Montanans — making prescription drug abuse 15 times more deadly than meth, heroin and cocaine combined. Our kids report the third-highest rate of prescription drug abuse in the country and more than half of them say prescription drugs are easier to get than street drugs.

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Safe in Your Space

When it comes to embracing new technology, kids have rapidly outpaced their parents and teachers. By their early school years, many children are already more comfortable on the Internet than their parents. But just because children are smart enough to know how to navigate the Internet, doesn’t mean they have the experience to make good decisions about some of the possibilities they may face online.

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Montana Sexual or Violent Offender Registry

Created by the Montana Department of Justice in 1989, the Sexual or Violent Offender Registry is a valuable resource for Montanans to protect their families against sexual or violent offenders.

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Montana 24/7 Sobriety Program

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.

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Work for Justice

Everyday at The Montana Department of Justice, our employees are dedicated to ensuring the well-being and rights of the people of our great state. We’re passionate about what we do because it’s more than a job or a career. It’s about who we are as people. If this sounds like you, your unique experiences, knowledge, and values may be just what the Montana Department of Justice is looking for and needs. In return we can offer a culture that promotes fairness and growth opportunities.

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