MISSOULA — A bill increasing penalties for repeat drunk drivers is now on it’s way to Gov. Greg Gianforte's desk after a final vote in the Montana House of Representatives on Monday.
Republican Rep. Bill Mercer’s bill that would increase fines and jail time for a fifth and subsequent DUI conviction including mandatory prison time after a seventh DUI. The bill had suffered a setback a couple of weeks ago but was reconsidered and is now close to becoming law.
- RELATED: Bill to toughen DUI penalties working its way through the MT Legislature
- RELATED: Hard work and hope lead the battle against impaired driving in Montana
- RELATED: Disappointment for family, Florence lawmaker following tabling of proposed DUI bill
We are continuing our series of reports on drunk driving in Montana with a look at what blood alcohol content (BAC) is and how it affects drivers.
A Missoula County sheriff’s deputy recently told us the drunkest person he’d ever pulled over had a BAC of .41 -- that's a level that can kill you. No amount of alcohol is good when it comes to driving. Montana’s legal limit .08 but what is that exactly? We asked Community Medical Center Emergency Room Doctor Josh Holexa.
"BAC stands for blood alcohol content and it’s a measure of the concentration of alcohol in the blood. So typically, we think of .08 as the legal limit. And that means .08 grams per milliliter. Another way to think of it, if someone was slightly over the legal limit at .10, that means that one-tenth of 1% of their circulating blood volume is alcohol or ethanol."
We know alcohol impacts concentration, coordination and reaction time. Those are things we need to drive safely. And for some, even just one drink can cause enough impairment to be dangerous.
Many factors will influence your BAC including your weight, gender, how fast you’re drinking, what you’re drinking, if you have food in your stomach, if you're taking medications and even altitude.
Alcohol tends to lie to us, making us feel euphoric and capable of driving. So when you don't trust your brain, you could consult a single-use breathalyzer sold in many area bars called Think Twice? It measures your BAC up to point 08 and bar owners appreciate that it’s a tool and not a toy.
"When I realized this wasn’t a game, which a lot of those things tend to be as people check to see how high their blood alcohol is. This one stops at .08 so it just gives people a good idea of where they’re at after they've had a few beers or a few drinks," said Red's Bar owner Mike Helean.
"People are definitely buying them," added Cranky Sam Public House owner Jen Heggen.
She put signs in the bathrooms to remind people to at least think about their sobriety, hoping it triggers a sense of personal responsibility.
"We want to make sure people are safe, so we brought this in as a tool to help people think about it, to be more conscientious about it, and to also realize that in Missoula now, there’s no excuse for it," Heggen said. You can call Uber, Lyft, there’s still Yellow Cab. Back a few years ago, that wasn’t available as readily as it is now and people do have the opportunity to make that choice now."
Both Helean and Heggen are encouraged by some of the new ways their customers can make safe choices while still enjoying themselves.
While the disposable Breathalyzers may not solve all of Montana’s drunk driving problems, if it saves one life, then that’s $2 well spent. You can buy these tests for any event you’re hosting where alcohol is available be it a house party or a fundraiser.
There are also studies that show alcohol consumption has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, including binge drinking. So, it's a very good time to really pay attention to safety and sobriety.