Montana tied as highest state for DUI fatalities, Gallatin Co. agencies seek to curb offenses

Posted at 3:59 PM, May 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-01 18:17:18-04

BOZEMAN – Cases of people with multiple DUI offenses, such as one heard Tuesday morning in Gallatin County Justice Court, are becoming more common.

On top of that, the state of Montana is near the top of the list, nationwide, when it comes to deaths caused by drunk driving.

It’s a number that advocacy groups like the Gallatin County DUI Task Force and law enforcement say is not one to be proud of.

The specific stretch of Interstate 90 that goes across Montana is the most dangerous stretch of highway in the entire nation when it comes to DUI fatalities.

That’s a statistic, among others, that the Gallatin County DUI Task Force says is understood by too few people.

“Montana is actually tied for first place in the entire nation for DUI fatalities,” says Kelley Parker-Wathne, Gallatin County DUI Task Force coordinator.

Parker-Wathne says that’s a stat that is both disturbing and hard to ignore.

“The alarm bells that go off is just a sad statistic,” Parker-Wathne says. “We have 313 alcohol licenses in Gallatin County alone. There are, I think, 15 breweries now in Gallatin County and that’s a lot. I don’t see it improving.”

She says Montana also is rated lowest for DUI legislation.

And, to the task force, each associated number shows something else to be scared of.

“Numbers and statistics show that most people have driven at least 80 times before they are arrested for a single DUI,” Parker-Wathne says. “It’s terrifying.”

The Montana Highway Patrol obviously covers a lot of area and not just Gallatin County alone, which is already large.

They say one of the primary tools that could help them cover more area starts with you.

“DUI is a significant problem in Montana,” says Sgt. Daniel Amundson of the Montana Highway Patrol, Bozeman post. “It always has been.”

Sgt. Amundson says communication from the public goes a long way, making phone calls a powerful tool to rely on.

“Fortunately, we have a lot of help from the public, especially with cell phones,” Sgt. Amundson says. “People call in reports of drunk drivers. We refer to that as a RAD report and the public helps us a lot by looking out for erratic driving, dangerous driving.”

Both the highway patrol and Gallatin County DUI Task Force say a plan could make a difference and knowing what can happen if you get behind the wheel when you shouldn’t.

“It’s really as simple as making a plan ahead of time,” Parker-Wahtne says.

“Reach out. Call a friend,” Sgt. Amundson says. “Have somebody you can call in a situation where, if you find yourself in an impaired driving situation, so you can find an alternate ride home.”

The Gallatin County DUI Task Force gathers information revolving around drunk driving statistics constantly, which can all be viewed on their website.

Reporting by Cody Boyer for MTN News