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 second in a two-part series focused on DWI and the impact it is having on the state. The first was published Dec. 21. 

In 2006, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS), there were 134 drunk driving fatalities in Minnesota.

In 2015, that number was 95. While the statistics offered by DPS show a bit of an upturn in recent years from a low of 81 drunk driving fatalities in 2013 the trend continues to show numbers of deaths related to driving under the influence are heading in the right direction.

The DPS statistics also reveal the number of people arrested for DWI has also been on the decline, with 42,007 arrests in 2006 and 25,027 in 2015.

Still, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) impaired driving is the single most serious threat to public safety across the nation.

In 2016 there were more than 10,000 impaired driving fatalities across the United States, and that, said James Eberspacher, division director for the National Center for DWI courts in a recent piece addressing the issue of impaired driving, is far too many.

What is the solution? 

For those who work with DWI offenders and public safety, it starts with education but also includes various efforts from drug court programs to technology, such as ignition interlock, that can and do make a difference.

Education is a must, said Art Morrow, Minnesota MADD executive director. Statistics show it is critical for education to start at an early age, too, as the NHTSA data shows in 2015 nearly three in 10 of those involved in impaired driving fatalities were between the ages of 21-24.

So, getting information to those who are approaching the legal age to drink and hitting them hard with the reality of the impact of impaired driving is a must, said Morrow, adding the education actually needs to start much younger than even age 16.

Of course, helping them see the consequences of impaired driving when one gets caught or worse impacts the life of someone else through their actions can help, too.

According to Patrick Rohland, Redwood County district court judge, there are several levels of consequence for someone who has been arrested for impaired driving based on everything from how many previous DWI arrests they may have to the amount of alcohol in their system.

Someone who is pulled over and is arrested for impaired driving having hit the .08 blood alcohol concentration and has no prior arrests for DWI may face up to 60 days in jail.

However to start their punishment may include serving two days in jail and paying a fine. Yet, the rest of that jail time still hangs over their head while they remain on probation.

Another person who has several DWIs on their record, may face a felony-level offense that could mean a longer stay with the Minnesota Department of Corrections, and many times that also includes loss of one’s driver’s license for a period of time.

Judge Rohland touted programs, such as the MADD Victim Impact Panel and the local, as efforts he believes are making a difference.

In fact, statistics provided by Rohland regarding the number of DWI filings from 2007-16 show an overall decrease.

As an example, in 2007 there were 61 gross misdemeanor DWIs filed, and in 2016 that number had dropped to 40.

Another program many believe is having an impact is the use of ignition interlock.

According to Morrow, MADD is pressing for an increase in the use of ignition interlock, as he said it is an effort that has proven to be effective. Vehicles that utilize ignition interlock can only start after the driver has blown into a device that will read their blood alcohol concentration. If there is an issue, the vehicle will not start.

For Judge Rohland, having an ignition interlock system in a vehicle would allow someone with a DWI to have limits but to also maintain life as a productive citizen by being able to still get to work, and he thinks that makes good sense.

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety