Written by Vicki Viall
Another of the biggest party days of the year is coming up, just a few weeks after New Year’s festivities. The question is, will Montana drivers show the same wariness about getting a DUI on Superbowl Sunday as they did on December 31? According to the Montana Department of Transportation, officers are on alert for impaired drivers all year long.
When off-duty Trooper Doug Samuelson overheard a bar patron in downtown Bozeman report staying at a hotel rather than risk a DUI on New Year’s Eve, one thought came to his mind: maybe the message is finally getting through.
“After overhearing that conversation, I felt our DUI enforcement efforts are making an impact. People are making better decisions not to drink and drive,” said Samuelson. Reports from around the state appear to show a high awareness of DUI enforcement on New Year’s Eve.
Along with other law enforcement across Montana, the Montana Highway Patrol increased patrols from December 13, 2013 through January 5, 2014. During that time, MHP alone booked 137 DUI arrests statewide. That compares to 170 DUI arrests by the Montana Highway Patrol during the same calendar period last year.
“The statewide conversation related to drinking and driving has been elevated significantly in the past two legislative sessions, and I think we’re starting to see the benefits,” said Montana Highway Patrol Colonel Tom Butler. “I hope the data continues to show positive numbers for both a decrease in DUI arrests and alcohol related fatalities.”
A decision to use a room key instead of a car key may have meant one less DUI arrest in Gallatin County at the New Year—where the Gallatin County Sheriff reported three total DUIs. In Cascade County, the growth of free-ride programs helped keep DUI arrests to zero.
“Strong enforcement of Montana’s impaired driving laws is crucial to saving lives. But we are also grateful for other community partners who help support the message that it is not okay to drink and get behind the wheel,” summarized Mike Tooley, Montana Department of Transportation Director.
Tooley explained that enforcement is key to moving toward the goal of Zero Deaths on Montana roads. “If most people know about extra patrols on New Year’s Eve, the next step is for them to understand law enforcement is also out there for the Superbowl, St. Patrick’s Day and every other time they might make the mistake of drinking and driving,” said Tooley.
“Education, emergency response and engineering are the other factors that will achieve the Zero Death goal,” he added.
Editor’s Note: Police Chief Jeff Harada agreed with all of the quotes contained in the article. He did wish to point out that drinking and driving is perceived as acceptable behavior in Wolf Point and he would like to emphasize that it is not! So please be responsible and utilize a designated driver. Ensure that you are around for next year’s Superbowl!