The blue signs with red and white lettering tell drivers that they can’t afford to drive under the influence. Whether this refers to the astronomical legal fees or the unnecessary risks to health and happiness associated with the crime is up to drivers, but Madison County undersheriff Roger Thompson makes one thing clear: This community does not tolerate drinking and driving.
“I think it’s a cultural issue that’s changing within Montana,” Thompson said. “We’re just trying to educate people, just keep it in the forefront of their minds. So they drive by the sign, they see it; maybe they’ll think twice.”
A total of nine signs will go up throughout the county as part of the project being funded in part by Gallatin County and the Madison County DUI task force.
In addition to the signage project, the task force has also done extensive compliance checks throughout the county targeting establishments that might be selling alcohol to underage people. Business that fail compliance checks may be fined up to $500 or six months in jail. The task force provides Responsible Alcohol Sales and Service training for business in order to inform the community and address the issue proactively.
“We’re just trying to cut off as many avenues as we can for people who are underage drinking,” Thompson said. “We are trying to educate the people who are selling liquor so that they don’t sell to underage people.”
The task force also keeps a record of DUI citations in the county through the help of countless volunteer hours in order to learn more about the problem. According to data collected by the task force, 44.5 percent of businesses that were checked were out of compliance.
Grant coordinator and volunteer Lynn Lowder explains that the compliance checks are important because they protect the young members of the community.
“It’s a county-wide concern to protect our citizens,” she said. “We don’t want people out drinking and driving.”
Part of the problem of drinking and driving stems from social practices that have been in place for a long time,
Thompson said. Taverns and bars often function as a community center in small towns throughout the state, and limited traffic on wide-open highways doesn’t help.
The task force wants to reduce the number of alcohol related fatalities on the road, and it requires a community effort to confront the issue, he said.
“The collaborative effort is designed so that law enforcement and other entities could be involved in doing this,” Thompson said.