The issue: The number of DWI arrests increases during the holiday season

Local impact: Driving under the influence puts anyone else on the road at risk.

Editor’s Note: What follows is the first in a two-part series focused on DWI and the impact it is having on the state. The second will be published later this month.

Attitudes toward drunk driving are changing.

That is the message the Minnesota Department of Public Safety is offering, as it has seen a reduction in the number of DWIs and drunk-driving related deaths across Minnesota in recent years.

Yes, the recent trends statewide are encouraging. However, said Art Morrow, state executive director for MADD in Minnesota, DWIs are still happening at a high rate.

Each year, added Morrow, driving under the influence, which he said includes drunk and drugged driving, impacts more than 2,000 families in some way.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Minnesota statistics show about one in three traffic deaths involve a drunk driver, and in Minnesota 2.4 percent of the public has admitted to driving after they have had too much to drink.

According to Morrow a scary statistic is that by the time an individual is arrested for drunk driving they have driven drunk, on average, 80 other times. The message is clear.

Don’t drink and drive. 

In Minnesota, anyone who has a blood alcohol concentration of .08 is considered impaired. That law went into effect in 2004 said Morrow, who said soon after the state reduced the rate from .10 to .08 there was a temporary increase in the number of DWI arrests, but in past years that number has been declining.

Is that good news?

According to Morrow, it is about focus. He said people at the department of public safety he has talked with indicate the issue has more to do with decreasing patrols due to budget constraints than it has to do with people’s habits changing.

Troy Christianson, a Minnesota State Patrol public information trooper, said a recent statistic addresses what is the reality.

In 2015 on the day before Thanksgiving, there were 42 DWI arrests statewide. One year ago on that same day there were 74, and in 2017 there were 137.

What is the difference?

According to Christianson, its the weather. In 2015 the weather was much more winter like, which meant law enforcement was focusing more on getting people out of the ditch.

With better weather in 2016 and 2017 on that same day, more people were out driving and drinking, and with a greater focus on DWIs more arrests were made.

Christianson said the state is currently in the midst of a DWI wave, which means more focus is being place on looking for people who are driving under the influence. That wave continues through the end of the year.

“We all know this time of the year people are going to be celebrating,” said Christianson.

The discussion is not about that. It is about what one does after the celebration comes to an end.

“Plan ahead,” said Morrow, adding it was MADD who coined the phrase “designated driver.”

Morrow said MADD does not offer an opinion on drinking. Rather it is focused on getting people to make good decisions.

“We want people to be with family around the table this time of the year,” said Morrow. “We want people to have a good time, but we also want them to be safe.”

That, he said, means having a responsible transportation plan. It is the holidays, such as Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, when the number of drunk driving incidents, crashes and arrests occur, said Morrow.

Making good decisions is about education, added Morrow. One the organizations that has focused in decision making is taking place at a much younger level.

Through Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) students are learning about safe habits through education.

Rose Frank, Redwood Valley SADD chapter president, said the local group focuses much of its attention on educating fellow students about making good decisions, whether it has to do with what students are doing in a car or in their general lives.

Frank said the students are currently focusing on finding balance in life and learning ways to cope with stress, and later this year the students will focus on seat belt use and fetal alcohol.

As students begin their Christmas break, Frank encouraged them to think about the decisions they make and to demonstrate respect for people. For her it is about showing kindness, looking out for others and being grateful for the things you have.

It is also about being smart and making wise decisions.

Photo courtesy of Internet public domain