BOZEMAN - Montana has the second-highest DUI death rate in the country, something that law enforcement works every day to stop.
The Gallatin County DUI Task Force is holding an awards ceremony for officers with the most DUI arrests.
The Law Enforcement DUI Awards Ceremony started four years ago to try to combat the high number of DUI-related deaths in the state of Montana. It honors the top three officers with the most DUI arrests from all of the county’s law enforcement agencies.
The state says 850 people have died on Montana highways in DUI-related accidents since 2011.
“This is our home,” said Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, who spoke at the ceremony on Wednesday. “These are our roads. These are our people. And the blood spilled on them because of DUI laws belongs on our loved ones.”
DUI Task Force coordinator Kelley Parker-Wathne admits that the reason why she fights for the cause is quite personal.
“My dad was, you know, an alcoholic. And so it touched me personally and I saw what it did to his life,” Parker-Wathne said. “And you know, he had every opportunity to make something of his life and alcohol ruined it. And so it’s heartbreaking to see what it does to families and kids.”
Law enforcement is doing a lot to get impaired drivers off of the road. One Bozeman Police officer honored on Wednesday made 66 DUI arrests last year.
But even when officers make these arrests, they often see the drivers get off with lenient sentences in court.
The nonprofit organization MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, ranks Montana’s impaired driving laws as the worst in the country.
Attorney General Tim Fox is in the midst of a battle to get a bill through the Senate. He says the bill would make DUI laws in the state tougher.
"Here in Montana we have an unfortunate problem - it's a real black eye to our state,” Fox said. “Because we're consistently in the top per capita for DUI deaths and DUIs in general, and we have to change that culture. Senate Bill 65 is a very important bill to help people get treatment, to get them off the roads when they have a chronic DUI problem, and to make sure that we do better in Montana."
Meanwhile, he says Montana’s law enforcement is still out in the community every day trying to protect our streets the best they can.