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​One more way to fight impaired driving

Feb. 7, 2019

A motorist performs a field sobriety test during a traffic stop as an officer watches

What’s your reason not to drink and drive? Is it because you’re afraid of hurting or even killing someone? Do you want to avoid crashing your car? Maybe you find a sober ride every time because it’s the right thing to do – or maybe you want to avoid getting a DWI and all the negative consequences that come along with it.

There are multiple reasons, and that’s why it requires multiple approaches, such as the DWI Officer Program, to ensure people make the right choice. The purpose of funding such a program is clear — keep Minnesotans safe on the road by reducing fatal and serious injury alcohol-related crashes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides the funds to the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), who has used it to award grants to 15 law enforcement agencies in 10 of the most dangerous drunk driving counties in Minnesota.

The idea is that agencies in these counties need more help preventing drunk driving, so the grants allow them to hire an extra officer who focuses on impaired driving. The DWI officers have stayed busy: Since Oct. 1, 2016, they’ve made over 50,000 traffic stops that resulted in 3,148 DWI arrests.

And although enforcement does act as a deterrent for those who might otherwise drive impaired, it’s part of a larger, multi-pronged approach. Education, extra enforcement campaigns, advertising, media relations, DWI courts and ignition interlock are all weapons in our DWI-prevention arsenal.

Slowly but surely, these efforts are paying off. In 2008, 129 people died in drunk-driving related crashes in Minnesota. Ten years later, that number has been reduced by nearly half, to 72. Also in 2008, 35,000 people were arrested for DWI, but that number dropped to less than 25,000 in 2017.

That doesn’t mean we can declare victory against drunk driving, though. Not by a long shot. Because 32 percent of the people who died on Minnesota roads in 2017 died in alcohol-related crashes, and an average of 68 DWI incidents are recorded every day.

So until every person who drinks in Minnesota makes a plan for a sober ride instead of getting behind the wheel, we can be grateful that strategies like the DWI Officer Program remains firmly in place where we need it the most.