Montana’s reputation as a place where drinking, driving and speeding are tolerated appears to be changing, reports the Associated Press. Until 2005, when the state came under heavy duress from the federal government, it was legal to drink and drive in many places. And a few years before that, there wasn't even a speed limit on major highways and in rural areas. But spurred by the high-profile death of a highway patrol officer at the hands of an intoxicated driver, Montana's Old West culture is changing. Judges are rejecting lenient plea deals and law enforcement leaders are exploring different ways of keeping track of repeat offenders.
Even the Legislature, which just a few years ago struggled to ban open containers of booze in cars, is beginning to promise tough new laws. This comes after years of virtually ignoring the state's ranking at or near the top of per capita drunken driving deaths. Montana has long been tolerant of drivers who drink. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers cited a “significant anti-government sentiment.” But almost no one doubts the state is coming to grips with its drinking and driving issues. A statewide conversation started last year after the high-profile death of Montana Highway Patrol trooper Michael Haynes – killed in a head-on crash after a bartender served the other driver 13 drinks over 3 1/2 hours. The judge in that case threw out a plea deal against the bartender in favor of mandatory jail time.