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Aug 28, 2012 9:18 PM by Marnee Banks - MTN News

Alcohol-related vehicle deaths increase in MT

Despite recently tightened DUI laws, alcohol-related crashes in Montana are up this year.

The Montana Department of Transportation reports that more people have died in alcohol-related crashes this summer than last summer.

So far this year, data shows 36 people have died in drinking and driving accidents; in 2011, that number was 23.

Montana Highway Patrol Lt. Colonial Butch Huseby says MHP hates to see those kinds of numbers increase: "But all we can do is continue the battle we have out there in fighting impaired driving, fighting aggressive driving and making sure that we're out there and visible."

During the 2011 Montana Legislature, lawmakers cracked down on DUI offenders with several new laws.

MT Attorney General Steve Bullock implemented a new 24/7 DUI monitoring program. It forces drivers with more than one DUI to take a breath test twice a day everyday.

The Legislature also increased penalties for drivers if they blow over twice the legal limit.

New laws also gave law enforcement authority to get warrants for a blood alcohol test.

"The laws are working. I think we do have some good laws. Like anything, you can always improve on things. But we do have good laws," Huseby says. "You can travel across Montana and you might not see a Trooper from one end to the other. That's because we are covering so many miles of highway with so few people. So the best way to help us in that effort is if the public can step up and also be eyes on the road for us."

Bullock says the 24/7 program is a game-changer: "Without question, it has taken hundreds of drunk drivers off our roads and kept them sober, each and every day they are in the program. We will never know for sure how many of the people in 24/7, who, had it not been for that program, would have gone out and driven drunk again, and ended up killing someone."

With Labor Day right around the corner, the Montana Highway Patrol is placing 35 to 50 Troopers on the roads to try and stop this trend.

Bullock says the other thing which would help reduce fatalities is a primary seat-belt law.

"That one law would change the fatality picture substantially," Bullock says.

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