As you prepare to make merry this Christmas and New Year season, you’ll find an increased presence of western Montana law enforcement agencies on patrol to guard against drunk or impaired driving.

Traffic Sergeant Greg Amundsen with the Missoula Police Department said there will be more patrols out looking for impaired drivers.

“We’re going to be out mostly at night trying to make as many stops as we can and make sure that people are not impaired while they’re driving,” said Amundsen, who noted that impaired driving can be even more dangerous in winter weather. “When you’re impaired you have trouble driving anyway, but when you add the ice and snow and the darkness and you can have some pretty serious problems.”

Amundsen described the typical traffic stop while officers are on the lookout for impaired drivers.

“We pull them over and then we walk up and make contact with the driver, and we look at their eyes, we’re trying to notice if we can smell anything and we look for signs of impairment,” he said. “They might have trouble with fine motor skills and they might have trouble locating things in the vehicle. I think everybody’s seen someone that’s impaired, but when the person is driving and they’re sitting down it’s harder because the cues are different. This is the time of year for Christmas parties at work and at school and we’re just trying to keep impaired drivers off the road.”

Amundsen described what happens after the officer determines that the driver is impaired.

“If someone doesn’t pass the standardized field sobriety tests then we read them an advisory ands ask them to provide a breath sample on a portable breathalyzer,” he said. “If they show impairment whether that pass that or not, then they may be impaired by something other than alcohol. They will more than likely then be taken to the Missoula County Detention Center where they’ll be processed for DUI. Once we’re done with them at the jail they just get booked into jail on the DUI charges.”

Amundsen said the overall cost of a DUI conviction can run into the thousands of dollars with legal costs, increased insurance rates and the possible loss of a driver’s license, which can be devastating for someone who must drive a vehicle for their job.

Amundsen's advice? Always choose a designated driver and avoid the issue altogether.