Drunk, drug driving trending back up in Missoula County as pandemic fades

Drunk Driving
Posted at 9:54 AM, May 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-26 11:54:34-04

MISSOULA - Efforts to reduce drunk and drug driving in Missoula County are ramping back up as more motorists hit the road, pushing impaired driving incidents back to pre-pandemic levels.

Last year, the county recorded 325 crashes involving an impaired driver, with nine of those resulting in a fatality and 18 in serious injury, according to Drive Safe Missoula. And the trends aren’t slowing down.

“Our trends are starting to go back up now that people are moving more in society,” said Lisa Beczkiewicz, the health promotion supervisor for the Missoula City-County Health Department. “Also, with the legalization of marijuana, there’s an uptick with the drug driving as well.”

When the pandemic hit 2019, Montana recorded 184 traffic-related fatalities, with 106 related to impaired driving. Last year, traffic-related fatalities jumped to 240, with 132 related to impaired driving.

Historically, nearly 7% of fatalities related to impaired driving occur in Missoula County and nearly 11% of all impaired-driving crashes. As the figures climb, the DUI Task Force in Missoula County is looking to ramp up its Drive Safe Missoula program.

“Funding for this program is always a little tenuous with our reinstatement fees,” Beczkiewicz said. “The reinstatement fees keep dropping. We don’t really know why that is.”

Under Montana law, a driver will pay $200 to have his or her license reinstated after a DUI infraction, and $100 of that goes to fund the DUI Task Force at the county level.

But funding from reinstatement fees has dropped precipitously over the past few years, hitting a new low in 2021 of just 3,500 deposits. The program netted less than $36,000 last year compared to $58,000 in 2018, according to state figures.

“We think it’s a shortage of police officers and sheriff deputies on the street to pull people over and process them, with the reinstatement fee that follows,” Beczkiewicz said. “It’s just not coming back to the community like it used to.”

Dwindling funding coupled with an increase in impaired driving remains a concern to members of the local DUI Task Force.

According to their annual plan, “the culture of impaired driving in Missoula continues to be a public health safety problem.” County commissioners this week adopted the annual plan for another year. Funding was pulled from a separate program.

“We’ll be tracking very closely our budget this year and monitoring the status of our funds and revenue for this program,” Beczkiewicz said. “I think it’s the social norming and the messaging over and over to encourage people not to drink and drive.”