BOZEMAN, Mont. (March 7, 2007) – A new statewide survey released today shows that 94 percent of Montanans agree or strongly agree that impaired driving is a crucial issue in the state, according to MOST of Us, a research institute based at Montana State University (MSU) that conducted the survey.
With nearly a third of Montana adults impacted in some way by impaired driving (30 percent), 45 percent believe the chances are high or very high that they or someone they care about might be harmed by an impaired driver. Forty-nine percent of Montana adults agreed that they would only vote for a candidate for state legislature who supports increased and highly visible impaired driving enforcement; another ten percent strongly agreed. MOST of Us conducted the phone survey of 404 randomly selected adults last summer.
“This is good news for public safety,” Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath said. “Attitudes have really changed in Montana.”
The survey also measured citizens’ perceptions of law enforcement in the state. Ninety-one percent of Montanans are very supportive of Montana law enforcement. Nearly as many—89 percent—believe that law enforcement officers are generally trustworthy and honest, and 76 percent feel safer in their presence. And despite the abundance of negative law enforcement messages that bombard the public through TV and movies, 86 percent of respondents report the media doesn’t affect their perceptions at all.
“The results of this survey show we’re right on track and have the trust and support of the people of Montana to continue making our state a safer place to drive,” said Colonel Paul K. Grimstad, Chief Administrator of the Montana Highway Patrol. “Preventing DUI is a priority issue for MHP and every officer will continue to be a DUI officer 365 days a year.”
According to MSU research director, Dr. Jeffrey Linkenbach, “These responses indicate that our citizens realize the problem of drunk driving in our state is not something that can be solved by law enforcement alone. Montanans are common sense people and we get the reality of the situation, which is that a joined law enforcement and community effort that is needed because we are not only going to arrest our way to sober drivers.” Linkenbach is also a faculty member in the Department of Health & Human Development at MSU.
With only ten percent of the total sworn law enforcement officers in Montana, the Montana Highway Patrol (MHP) is the state’s leader in enforcing DUI laws, arresting half of all DUI offenders in the state each year.
“Other law enforcement agencies—the sheriff’s departments, city police officers, Tribal Law Enforcement and others—are doing their part to arrest the offenders,” Grimstad said. “MHP has realized that we can’t change the DUI situation in Montana alone. That’s why we continue to make DUI an agency priority and assist other agencies in making it theirs.”
MHP has already trained hundreds of other law enforcement officers on the Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFST) techniques, as well as county attorneys to assist in the prosecution of DUI cases.
“The Montana Comprehensive Highway Safety Plan has served as a model for other states, and I think this survey shows why,” said Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation. “Montanans are interested in saving lives on our roads, and we know everyone must play a part in that – always buckling up, always driving sober and never allowing others to drive impaired.”
The study is part of a larger project sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on the use of social norms advocacy to address impaired driving. The project also includes a national phone survey of adult residents in all 50 states, the results of which will be released in the spring.
“This research is an extension of our past work based on changing perceptions of social norms through what we call ‘The Science of the Positive,’” Linkenbach said. “The bottom line is that Montana culture and values about preventing DUI—especially our support of law enforcement’s role—is strong. We must build upon these strengths until we eliminate all impaired driving in our state.”
MOST of Us (www.mostofus.org) is pioneering the use of the social norms approach to build public and legislative support for impaired driving prevention strategies. This model of “social norms advocacy,” which examines the perceptions, opinions and behaviors that inform our daily behavioral choices and encourage people to make better, healthier decisions, will be tested in high-risk impaired driving states, beginning with Montana.