Montana is one of the deadliest states in the nation when it comes to drunk driving fatalities, according to a recent report by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). In Montana, 30% of all deadly crashes involve at least 1 driver whose blood-alcohol content is higher than the legal limit.
And yet, Montana has some of the most lenient drunk driving laws in the nation.
If you’re involved in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, you have the right to file a personal injury claim. This claim is separate from the criminal case that will likely be pursued by a Montana prosecutor against the driver.
This article examines some of the laws governing drunk driving in Montana, the penalties for driving while intoxicated, and what steps should be taken if you’re involved in an accident caused by a drunk driver.
In Montana, you will receive a DUI if your blood-alcohol content (BAC) is above .08%. If you’re a commercial driver, you will receive a DUI if your BAC is above .04%.
If you’re under 21, you will receive a DUI if your BAC is .02 or more.
Finally, if you have a BAC of .16 or higher, you will be subject to an enhanced penalty (discussed below).
|Montana DUI Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits|
|“Per Se” BAC Limit||0.08%|
|Commercial Driver BAC Limit||0.04%|
|Enhanced Penalty BAC Limit||0.16%|
|Underage BAC Limit||0.02%|
It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t actually have to be driving to receive a DUI. You only need to be in “physical control” of a motor vehicle. Though there’s no clear-cut test for determining whether a person was in “physical control” of a vehicle, the Montana Supreme Court recently defined the term as follows:
When you operate a car, truck or other motor vehicle in Montana, you automatically give consent to the Montana police to test your BAC level so long as the police officer has reasonable grounds to believe you’re driving under the influence. This is known as the implied consent law.
Refusal to take a BAC test will result in an automatic 6 month suspension of your license (for non-commercial drivers) and an automatic 1 year suspension of your license (for commercial drivers). The length of the suspension increases with additional offenses.
According to a 2018 report by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Montana has the worst laws for combating drunk driving.
There’s evidence, however, that the Montana legislature is trying to address the problem.
While penalties may not be as strict as some states, Montana does have some penalties in place. The penalties vary depending on the driver’s BAC level and how many prior convictions they have.
The following chart summarizes the range of penalties:
|DUI Penalties in Montana|
|Penalty||1st Offense||2nd Offense||3rd Offense||Enhanced Penalty (1st Offense)|
|Jail Time||24 hrs - 6 months||7 days - 1 year||30 days - 1 year||48 hours - 1 year|
|Fines||$600 -$1,000||$1,200 -$2,000||$2,500 -$5,000||$1,000|
|License Suspension||6 months||1 year||1 year||6 months|
|Ignition Interlock Device||Yes (discretion of court)||Yes (discretion of court)||Yes (discretion of court)||Yes (discretion of court)|
Though not a DUI, a person commits the offense of “unlawful possession of an open alcoholic beverage container” if they knowingly possess an open alcoholic beverage container within the passenger area of a motor vehicle. A person convicted of this offense will be fined in an amount not to exceed $100.
Dram shop laws hold establishments that sell alcohol responsible for serving intoxicated patrons who later cause an accident.
Montana Code Annotated 27-1-710 states that an alcohol vendor may be held liable for providing alcohol to a person who then causes injury to another, if any of the following circumstances are true:
If you’re hit by a drunk driver, it’s important to call the police immediately. When the police arrive, be sure to explain that you suspect the other driver is intoxicated. Your statement may help the police officer establish the necessary reasonable grounds to administer a field sobriety test.
In addition to calling the police, be observant. Sometimes an intoxicated driver will attempt to hide alcohol bottles somewhere in the area or will make statements that can be used against them.
Once the authorities have been alerted and you make sure you're physically okay, contact a personal injury attorney. The driver will face jail time and fines, but you’ll need to hire your own attorney if you want to sue for damages stemming from the accident.
In Montana, you may be able to recover economic damages (such as medical expenses, property damage, and lost wages), as well as noneconomic damages (such as pain and suffering) if you’re hit by a drunk driver. You also stand a chance of recovering punitive damages assuming you can prove that the driver who caused the accident acted with actual malice.
If you’re still looking for DUI information and help, the following resources may prove useful: