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Rash of drunk driving accidents rock Montana community

Recent accidents throughout the state of Montana have drawn more attention to residents' permissive attitude toward drinking and driving, according to Missoula authorities. Seven people have been killed so far this year on Montana roads in alcohol-related accidents, a number that approaches 10 percent of those killed in similar crashes in the 2010 calendar year.

Most recently, two young adults were killed and one was severely injured in a late-night drunk driving car accident earlier this month. The victims, who ranged between 18 and 21 years of age, were riding in a car with the 21-year-old driver, who was allegedly intoxicated. The driver has been charged with vehicular homicide in the car accident and he is currently being held on a $500,000 bail.

One of the passengers who died in the crash had been a passenger in a car accident that resulted in another drunk driving fatality just one year ago. In that crash, a 22-year-old woman was killed and the 22-year-old driver was imprisoned for her death.

Family members of the victims attest that the drinking culture in Montana has changed during recent years. The injured man's step-sister told reporters that she thinks young people are more likely to drive drunk instead of calling for a sober ride. The woman said that more young people would be alive today if they would simply ask for help.

Authorities say that despite increased law enforcement efforts, drunk driving persists as a significant problem in communities throughout the state. Health officials and prevention strategists say they are baffled by the continued plague of such accidents. Recent efforts have included a pledge program among area high school students that encourages them not to drink until they turn 21. The program also urges the students to refrain from drinking and driving, and instructs them to never travel with an intoxicated driver.

High school administrators and program leaders continue to work to raise awareness about the growing drunk driving problem by implementing more educational efforts. Additionally, a public forum will be hosted on April 17 to discuss community concerns about the issue. The forum will be sponsored by the Underage Substance Abuse Prevention team.

Source: Missoulian, "Recent DUI deaths in Missoula highlight a stubborn drinking culture," Gwen Florio, March 11, 2012

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