GREAT FALLS — Experts are warning that as spring and warmer weather approaches more drivers are on the road and there are concerns that DUIs will be on the rise.
According to the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT), the state has one of the highest fatality rates in the nation for the number of deaths caused by impaired drivers per vehicle mile traveled.
Data that was collected in 2020 indicates that 66% of all fatalities were the result of impaired driving, which is a 58% increase from 2019 (source), and as numbers are expected to increase, a variety of factors come into play.
"Particularly with the commercialization of marijuana now, there are hundreds of different substances, both legal and illegal besides alcohol that can impair your driving, and I guess the big thing is you just never know how it's going to affect you," said Cascade County Prevention Specialist & Prevention Program Manager at Alliance For Youth Beth Morrison.
"If you think about it, you can eat well and exercise, and you can still get cancer. Certain things you're pre-disposed to, and this is the same case, you just don't know how it's going to impact you, so you're better off not driving impaired, period," Morrison continued.
As organizations and law enforcement prepares for an increasing amount of drivers to hit the roads this spring, many of the concerns are particularly pointed toward young adults.
"The biggest concern we're seeing right now, an issue that has been brought to our intention, the 18 to 20 year-olds, who can go into bars to gamble, but not drink, are getting their friends who are 21 and older to provide them with alcohol in those establishments," Morrison said.
The Montana Department of Transportation outlined its goals to decrease the amount of DUI incidences that occur. Their main goal is to decrease alcohol-impaired driving fatalities by 3%, from the 2014-2018 rolling average of 75% to 69.9% by the end of 2025. Alliance for Youth is also aiming to promote engagement.
"We also work very closely with the DUI task force here in Cascade County, they have a great ride-share program with the tavern association. We've also done outreach, putting posters in bars giving people information on how to get a safe ride home," Morrison noted.