HELENA – The Montana Highway Patrol (MHP) hosted an educational event called a ‘wet lab’ at the Capitol Monday.
In the wet lab, members of the public and elected officials volunteered to be given alcohol over a period of time and then given standardized field sobriety tests.
MHP used the demonstration as a way to dispel misinformation surrounding DUIs and show just how many drinks it would take to reach an impaired status.
In addition to better informing lawmakers about the effects of alcohol, organizers also used the event to advocate for a new DUI law.
The Montana Department of Justice strongly supports Senate Bill 65, which would rewrite the “hodgepodge” of current DUI laws in the state into a more comprehensive code.
“Senate Bill 65 is a big bill,” said Sergeant Kurt Sager with MHP. “It basically repeals existing DUI law– condenses, combines and clarifies portions of existing law and makes some additional changes.”
Sager said he wants to make sure everyone has the facts about the proposed legislation.
“There’s nothing wrong with drinking and this is not an anti-drinking bill by any means,” explained Sager. “It’s about becoming impaired and getting behind the wheel. That is not acceptable.”
An important change in the proposed legislation would let law enforcement apply for a search warrant on a first offense refusal.
“First offense is our biggest issue. Seventy-two percent of our DUIs are first offense and refusals are a big issue because it prevents an important piece of evidence from being presented to the court,” said Sager.
Officers at the event regret Montana’s history with alcohol-related fatalities.
“Yeah Montana has a culture of it but it’s not okay to go and kill people,” said Sager. “Honestly when you look at the number of DUI fatalities we have is astonishing. We have near the top of the nation year in and year out and that’s not acceptable.”
Data from the Montana Department of Transportation shows that from 2008 to 2017 more than 1,000 fatal crashes in the state involved an impaired driver.
-John Riley reporting for MTN News