Montana enjoys the unenviable position of dead last among the states for its efforts to curb DUIs as rated by Mothers Against Drunk Driving. There are state rankings for just about any measure you can think of. And it's easy to dismiss many, if not most, as irrelevant.
But this one shouldn't be ignored. MADD is a credible organization with a long history of battling drunk driving. Its annual Report to the Nation should be taken seriously.
The report singled out Montana for its lack of mandatory ignition interlocks for all DUI offenders and its sparse use of sobriety checkpoints where drivers are randomly checked for their blood alcohol content. The ignition interlocks are installed at the offender's expense and require a driver to give an alcohol-free breath sample before the car will start. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they reduce repeat offenses by 67 percent.
Montana was also singled out because it has the highest rate of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in the nation with at least one driver with over the blood alcohol limit involved in 45 percent of all fatal accidents in 2016. Another 66 people lost their lives in these accidents last year. That's a lot of deaths that could have been prevented with tougher laws.
It can be argued that Montana's attitudes toward drinking and driving are part of a longstanding culture. Because of the libertarian streak in our politics, we were the last state to ban open containers of alcohol in motor vehicles throughout the state. Those attitudes persist and there will continue to be resistance to imposing stricter DUI measures.
But this is a state with a bright future. Quality of life highlighted by world-class outdoor opportunities, good schools and low overall crime rates are attracting more businesses — the kind of clean businesses that provide good-paying jobs and have little impact on the environment.
But our record on drunk driving is a glaring blemish on that image.
Because of our vast system of narrow rural roads, we may always have higher traffic fatality rates than more populated states. But when it comes to DUI policy and alcohol-related traffic deaths, we should be able to do better than dead last.