At a recent holiday party a friend of ours explained with eggnog in hand why, even on the coldest and snowiest winter nights, and even if he's been offered a ride, he chooses to walk home after he's been drinking. It's beautiful and allows for quiet reflection, he said, and by the time he gets home—typically after walking more than a mile—the endorphins provide a sobering effect.
A little drastic, if you ask us, but our friend certainly has the right idea. The problem is that too many other Montanans don't have the foggiest idea how to safely get home after a night of drinking. Case in point: Montana's DUI-related death rate ranks first in the country—for the second year in a row.
According to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) report released this month, Montana had 0.84 DUI-related deaths per 100 vehicle miles traveled in 2008, a little less than its 2007 rate of 0.93. Put differently, of Montana's 229 highway fatalities in 2008, 91 were alcohol related, or 40 percent. Nationally, 11,773 people were killed in alcohol related crashes in 2008, almost 32 percent of all highway deaths.
Of course, this data doesn't come as much of a surprise in Big Sky Country, where drinking and driving is as much a product of our culture as a result of bad judgment. After all, it wasn't until 2005 that Montana banned open containers in vehicles, one of the last states to do so. The state continues, however, to allow brewskies in boats.
Speaking of which, while we all know about state Sen. Greg Barkus' drunken run-in with the rocks on Flathead Lake, those involved shed some sobering light on the extent of Montana's drinking and driving culture. After the crash the Indy obtained documents showing that it was Barkus' second DUI-related incident, and then the Missoulian reported that the prosecutor's deputy attorney, the original judge's ex-husband, and even Barkus' own defense attorney all have previous DUI arrests. The attorney's case was dismissed, the Missoulian reported, because the arresting officer was not available to testify—because he had been killed by a drunk driver.
Unfortunately, there are scores of other examples—the drunk driver who killed revered city prosecutor Judy Wang in September comes immediately to mind—but you get the point. It's a major problem.
And so we urge you to heed our friend's advice this holiday season. Have all the eggnog you'd like, but keep your sleigh parked. Bring your boots and walk home, call a cab, or sculpt an igloo and sleep in it. Anything but drive. Because our humble holiday wish list includes removing Montana from the top of another one.