Billings-area group working to lower DUI crashes

Posted at 9:11 AM, May 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-22 11:12:56-04

It's a big problem that destroys lives in Montana.

According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Montana ranks above the national average per capita for alcohol-impaired driving deaths.

The Yellowstone County DUI Task Force aims to change that for alcohol and drugs.

The group finished the first Big Sky Drug and Alcohol Symposium Friday at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in Billings.

The plan was to have the symposium last year but because of COVID, it had to be canceled. So organizers brought it back this year.

And it was really important for the Yellowstone County DUI Task Force to bring this together and meet in person to talk about the issues for two days.

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KTVQ photo

"The focus that we put on was enforcement prevention and treatment," said Lt. Robert Lester of the Yellowstone County Sheriff's Office. "So the goal of the task force is to eliminate impaired driving incidents, specifically fatalities. The goal with this conference was to bring good training into Montana because you have to go to Washington, D.C., for national conferences, Nashville, things like that. But why not have one here in Billings, Montana, for our people."

Lester is also the chair of the task force.

He said the symposium brought good information to the nearly 170 who attended.

"So this training here provides people with what to look for current drug trends," he said. "What's happening in our community and nationwide with the drug trends. Right now, (Dr. Karl) Citek is talking about how alcohol affects eye movements and why officers do the finger test. Things like that."

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KTVQ photo

And the lieutenant says dealing with DUIs is getting more challenging.

"Fighting impaired drivers is a challenge that we've been facing since the creation of alcohol and vehicles mixing together," Lester said. "I mean, we've already had people you know driving on the influence of methamphetamine, marijuana, alcohol but now with the legalization (of marijuana), we're planning to see a spike and impaired driving."

He said it's important to know how to plan ahead to avoid driving drunk.

"If you don't plan ahead, you go out, you start drinking, decision making changes," Lester said. "You decide to drive home. We want you to plan. If you know that you're going to do that and you have a plan in place, hey, my ride's here, it's 10 o'clock. I gotta go. It's time to go. We don't want you to get behind the wheel and drive it."

Lester said a lot depends on education, and that's the important part to teach people about the problems of drinking and driving under the influence.

He also says parents can be a big part of the teaching about impaired driving.

The symposium brought together those working in law enforcement, therapy and other professions dealing with drugs and alcohol.