Montana legislators recognize that the state has one of the highest drunk driving rates in the nation, and motorists should be aware that several laws being considered for 2011 could significantly change how driving while intoxicated is treated in the state, a growing problem that currently costs taxpayers roughly 600 dollars per year each according to some proponents.
For example, some drivers may know that Montana law enforcement officials now need a search warrant in order to obtain a breathalyzer test from drivers accused of being intoxicated. However, some officials are proposing that on-call judges be available to sign the warrants, eliminating the current possibility that reports wouldn't be made until the next day when a magistrate is available.
More significantly, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has teamed with several legislators to offer the possibility of installing interlock devices on cars owned by first-time DUI offenders in Montana
, where it is currently only a misdemeanor offense. There have been questions about who would pay for the expenses, currently $120 for installation and $80 per month for maintenance.
Another issue that may not be noted for older graduates of online traffic schools is the lack of counseling for first through third offenses of laws banning driving while intoxicated. Treatment is only mandated on the fourth conviction, when it becomes a felony and can impact employment. Some Montanans are advocating the institution of rehabilitation options before it becomes a trend and potentially leads to accidents.
But with the potential for increased treatment comes increased responsibility, according to MADD. Montana Law and Justice Interim Committee Chair Shannon Augare told ABC affiliate KHBB, "We really want to focus on what's realistic, what's cost effective, and what should offenders be responsible for - even after their first offense." She went on to add that interlock systems are likely to be a part of any new legislation.
The changes are part and parcel of Montana attempting to move its drunk driving laws in line with those of much of the rest of the nation. Several Democrats have raised concerns that while drivers may have the best education possible at local driving schools, they are still driving according to antiquated laws that don't match the safety data on a state or federal basis.
Representative Mike Menehan is one legislator who sees the current eight-hour education courses as being a good start, but not nearly enough for those who truly need substance abuse counseling, according to the Missoulian. A former prosecutor, he also wants the ability for courts to consider mandated rehabilitation as part of sentencing.
The sweeping changes could mean that even people who recently took online traffic school courses
may want to take stock of the new legislation before considering going out to that next party or social event. In Montana, the laws are changing and the costs and fines could be staggering. Were someone to be convicted, the new interlock law would also keep them from operating a vehicle if their BAC was above 0.00.