HELENA — After COVID-19 canceled many New Year celebrations in 2020 some hope for a return to normal as 2021 turns to 2022.
But the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff is reminding people who plan to celebrate with a few drinks, they should also plan to find a safe ride home.
The Lewis and Clark County Sheriff's Office has seen a 16 percent increase in Driving Under the Influence charges since 2020, with 111 reported so far in 2021.
Sheriff Leo Dutton says a lack of judgment is one of the factors behind the rise.
"One of the things that we had was a lockdown in 2020 where people actually did try to stay home. Now that things are loosening up, people aren't using the same common sense," said Sheriff Dutton.
Dutton says fatal crashes are expected during the holidays because of impaired driving.
"Someone will hit another vehicle. It's got a family that's going to their mom or dad's house, or the person driving will hit a bridge abutment. Things like that."
When you drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol you are not just putting yourself at risk.
"If you're out there driving and you're impaired, you are putting everyone in danger," said Dutton.
There are safer options, like ride shares Uber or Lyft.
"Use something where you don't have to drive. Don't put yourself in a position where you're going to harm others," said Dutton.
In Lewis and Clark County, Tri-County Beverage Association members offer the “Home Free” program.
It allows bartenders to get a free ride home for patrons.
“I think it's all way of giving back to the community to try to keep them off the road by saying, you know, there's in my opinion or in our opinion, there's absolutely no excuse to get behind the wheel in this day and age, when all you have to do is raise your hand and say ‘hey I need a ride home’ and we push a button and you got a ride home,” said Bruce McCullough, President of Tri-County Beverage Association.
The legal limit in Montana is a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08.
The penalties for a first offense could land you in jail for up to six months and a fine up to $1,000.