Montana is known for its beautiful scenery, wide open spaces, and strong advocacy of personal liberties. Most notably, the state is famous for having the largest per capita gun ownership rates in the United States.
However, despite this affinity for personal liberties, Montana recently passed a new DUI law that some observers are calling too strict.
According to the Billings (Mont.) Gazette, the new law requires DUI offenders to perform breath tests two times a day as they await trial for their drunk driving arrests.
The program, which is only active in Yellowstone County but will likely spread to other counties soon, is intended not only to keep alleged drunk drivers sober before their trial, but to deter potential drivers from getting behind the wheel drunk in the first place.
The article in the Billings Gazette focused on Toni Allison, who was recently arrested for a DUI. After she posted bond, she was able to leave jail, but she has to return two times each day to do a breathalyzer test.
If Allison fails one of these tests, under the terms of the new law, she will be arrested immediately and may face new criminal charges, as well as forfeiture of her bond.
The law, which is named the “24/7 Sobriety Program,” is patterned after a similar regulation passed in South Dakota. It gives Montana judges the discretion to order the daily BAC tests for DUI repeat offenders.
Defendants who are forced to take the daily tests are required to pay two dollars for each test. If they miss a scheduled test, prosecutors are free to issue a warrant for their arrest.
Officials recently tested the new program in Lewis and Clark County, and reported a 99 percent success rate. Other counties are considering adopting an electronic monitoring program, rather than the test-on-site method practiced in Yellowstone County.
While critics of the program claim it is needlessly invasive, legislators in Montana believe that the new law will deter drivers from driving drunk, and that the law is necessary to curtail a practice that is perceived as a major problem on the open roads of Montana.
Montana used to be known for its relaxed driving laws. It was one of the final U.S. states to implement a speed limit, and it used to wear its lack of speed limits as a badge of pride.
Now, however, Montana is following a national trend of cracking down on unsafe drivers, as more than 10,000 people still die in the United States each year as a result of drunk driving accidents.
So, while the new law may be a nuisance to people who are arrested for multiple DUIs, it may be a helpful tool in the fight against drunk driving. At the very least, it will ensure a temporary period of sobriety alleged DUI offenders.