Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day the traditional way (it’s not what you think)

March 14, 2019

A driver performs a field sobriety test for two officers during a traffic stop

Believe it or not, a traditional celebration of St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t involve getting drunk on green beer -- or anything else, for that matter. It used to be customary (and still is, in parts of Ireland) to celebrate the anniversary of the death of Ireland’s patron saint with song and dance, feasting with family and friends; attending parades, and watching sporting events such as soccer and horse racing. Think of it as a combination of Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July.

Notice that you can do many of those celebratory activities here in Minnesota – and that none of them involve drinking too much and getting behind the wheel of a car. But for those who still think it’s harmless fun to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by driving drunk, extra DWI enforcement will be out on the roads for the St. Patrick’s holiday weekend, March 16 and 17.

St. Patrick’s Day tends to see a lot of drunk driving. For example, it’s fourth on Minnesota’s list of most DWI arrests per hour (3.8) in a holiday timeframe – the top three are Halloween (4.0), the Fourth of July (3.9), and Labor Day (3.8), according to 2013-2017 averages. But like St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, attitudes toward impaired driving are changing – not just on holidays, but year-round.

Consider that in the 1960s, about 60 percent of all traffic deaths were alcohol-related. But today, only about 31 percent are (2013-2017). There has even been more recent change: In 2008, there were nearly 36,000 DWI arrests, whereas in 2017, that number dropped to 25,000. That’s a 31 percent decrease.

Perhaps we owe this cultural change in part to the fact that people are realizing they can – and should – find a safe ride home after a night of partying, and that it’s becoming easier to do. This Saturday, for example, Metro Transit is offering free rides on all routes from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. in conjunction with the Saint Paul St. Patrick’s Day parade.

If you’re not up for a bus or train, you can designate a sober driver, call a cab or app-based ride service, or stay at the location of the party – your friends would rather you woke up on their couch wearing shamrock antennae than visit you in the hospital or the morgue after a DWI-related crash.

So if you decide on a non-traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebration this year – that is, indulging in a little too much stout or whiskey – be sure to plan ahead for a sober ride. After all, the luck of the Irish only extends so far.