A mental image of a Montana road may go something like this: a strip of concrete ambling past lush green horse pastures, wending its way toward a towering mountain pass under an endless blue sky.
The picture emerging from a pair of recent reports, however, is decidedly grislier. The 2018 Report to the Nation from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) named Montana as the state with the nation’s most ineffective drunk driving laws. It comes on the heels of an October 2017 report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which found Big Sky Country to have the highest frequency of fatal accidents caused by an impaired driver, at 45%.
“Montana has done little to reduce drunk driving,” read the MADD report.
In the report, MADD ranked each state on a 5-point scale. States with the most stringent DUI laws—those that require interlock devices for all drivers with DUI convictions, conduct routine DUI checkpoints, and make it a felony to drive drunk with a child in the vehicle, among other factors—received the highest marks. According to the report, the states with the best laws for combatting drunk driving are Arizona, Nevada,
Mississippi, Maryland, and
West Virginia, with 4.5 points apiece.
Montana’s failure to force all motorists convicted of DUI, including first-time offenders, to install ignition interlock devices is just one of many reasons the state earned the nation’s lowest score, a 0.5-point rating. Joining Montana at the bottom of the list were Michigan with 1 point, as well as Iowa, Wyoming, Idaho, and Rhode Island, each with 1.5 points.
Ignition interlock devices, which do not allow a car to start if the driver’s blood-alcohol level is over a pre-determined limit, have been proven to reduce the number of repeat DUI offenders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is nearly a 70% reduction in recidivism when an ignition interlock device is installed.
Still, reform attempts in Montana have been difficult. State Senator Sue Malek (D-Missoula) has twice attempted to sponsor more stringent DUI enforcement laws, including one last year that would require ignition interlocks after a first DUI offense. Both bills died in committee despite support from MADD and law enforcement.
But MADD isn’t limited to state legislators when it comes to finding support and making change. Recently, the group turned its attention to the tech world and partnered with an autonomous technology company in the hopes of reducing the number of impaired drivers on the road by removing the steering wheels from their hands.