AG Announces Plan to Reduce Drunken Driving in Montana

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A pilot program intended to reduce drunken driving by requiring twice-daily breath tests for those accused of a second or subsequent DUI will take effect in Helena and Lewis & Clark County in May, officials said Thursday.

“This program has a lot of promise because it’s a low-cost program that holds people who repeatedly drive drunk accountable and imposes immediate consequences if they don’t stay sober,” Attorney General Bullock said.

Under the 24/7 Sobriety Program, borrowed from South Dakota, the breath tests would be a requirement for anyone released on bond after a second or subsequent DUI charge.

Offenders would participate in the program while awaiting their court date. If an offender fails a breath test or does not show up for one, bond is revoked and the person is jailed.

Under Montana’s pilot program, offenders will be required to pay $2 per breath test, Bullock said. People who live in areas too far from testing centers will wear ankle bracelets that continuously monitor them for alcohol consumption, and offenders would have to pay for that cost.

Montana’s lawmakers have been studying ways to reduce drunken driving and related crashes as the state continues to have one of the worst rates of alcohol-related fatalities.

South Dakota started the 24/7 program as a pilot project in 2005, and it has since gone statewide. Alcohol-related fatalities in South Dakota declined from 94 in 2003 to 34 in 2008 — a 64 percent drop. North Dakota added the program in 2008.

Lewis & Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton, County Attorney Leo Gallagher and Col. Mike Tooley with the Montana Highway Patrol traveled to Rapid City, S.D., on Monday to meet with officials there and learn how the program is managed.

“From what we saw in Rapid City, this program can keep repeat offenders out of jail and keep them sober, which means our roads will be safer and our jail costs down,” Dutton said.

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