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One in seven drivers has a DWI on record

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Each year, drunken driving crashes account for one-third of the state’s total traffic deaths, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) recently reported.

Drunken driving was a direct factor in 136 traffic deaths in 2011. Last year, 368 people died in traffic crashes in the state, the lowest number since 1944. But 37 percent of crashes last year involved drunken drivers.

The good news comes as state numbers reflect a 40 percent reduction in drunken driving deaths compared to those recorded 10 years ago. But for state officials working to drive that number down, there is still a lot of road ahead.

“The progress we’ve made to limit drunk driving deaths is far eclipsed by the tragedies created by this behavior every year,” said Jean Ryan, impaired driving programs coordinator at DPS, in a news release. “Enforcement and education efforts are leading the change in behavior, but it takes everyone’s committed responsibility to stop these preventable death.”

Using the most complete numbers as of 2011, one in seven Minnesota drivers has a DWI on record — that’s 570,191 drivers. And 1,265 Minnesotans have 10 or more DWIs.

The DPS released 2011 numbers following its latest crackdown on driving while intoxicated (DWI) with the national Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over campaign which concluded Labor Day.

Some of the Minnesota statistics show:

➤ Between 2007 and 2011, 651 people were killed in drunken driving crashes, which equated to an average of 130 deaths annually and during that time period 166,962 motorists were arrested for DWI.

➤ In the state, there were about 81 DWI arrests per day with greater Minnesota accounting for half of all arrests. In 2011, 29,257 Minnesotans were arrested for DWI. Historically, about 85 percent of DWI arrests result in a conviction each year.

➤ The majority, 73 percent, of all DWIs were male drivers.

➤ It’s not all youthful indiscretion as drivers between 20-29 years of age accounted for 42 percent of DWI arrests. One in 15 of arrests were for people younger than 21.

➤ A majority of violators, at 59 percent, were first-time offenders.

➤ The average alcohol concentration among first-time offenders was 0.148, for repeat offenders the level was 0.166. The legal limit is .08.

➤ The top five counties for the highest DWI conviction rates were Red Lake, Lyon, Wilkin, Hubbard and Polk.

➤ In Minnesota counties last year, there were 796 severe injuries in vehicle crashes, 120 unbelted vehicle occupant fatalities and 231 unbelted occupants suffered severe injuries. The total estimated economic impact of the deaths and severe injuries was $437,193,200.

Drunken driving prevention efforts include planning ahead with designated drivers or sober cab rides. The state also pointed to technology options as deterrents like the ignition interlock program, which started in July of 2011.

With the program, first-time offenders with an alcohol concentration of .16 or above and repeat offenders use an alcohol detection device attached to their vehicle in order to regain driving privileges. More than 4,000 DWI offenders were using the ignition device in its first year.

The device, about the size of a hand-held calculator with a blowing tube, is connected to the engine. The vehicle won’t start if a certain alcohol concentration level is detected when the driver blows into the tube.

Offenders with three or more offenses are required to use interlock for three to six years, or they will never regain driving privileges, the DPS reported.

Besides drunken driving, the state’s Toward Zero Deaths traffic safety initiative is aimed at creating a safe driving culture with a goal of no traffic-related fatalities on state roadways. That focus includes speeding and distracted driving, as well as alcohol and impaired driving.

Seat belt use

Of 878 vehicle occupants killed in the state between 2009-2011, 46 percent were known to be wearing a seat belt. Of 2,550 vehicle occupants who were seriously injured, 57 percent were known to be wearing a seat belt. The state reported annually, nearly 80 percent of unbelted traffic deaths are in greater Minnesota. State law calls for all vehicle occupants to be wearing a seat belt or be in the proper child seat.

Minnesotans that are least likely to buckle up and more likely to die in crashes are young drivers.

“Each year, motor vehicle occupant drivers ages 15–29 account for nearly 40 percent of all unbelted deaths and nearly 50 percent of all unbelted serious injuries — yet this group represents only 24 percent of all licensed drivers,” the state reported. “Each year, nearly 70 percent of drinking drivers killed in crashes are not buckled up. Nationwide, traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for people ages 2 to 33 years old.

“Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers — 16 to 19-year-olds are more likely to die in a crash than the next two leading causes combined (homicide and suicide). Of the 95 vehicle occupant crash fatalities in that age group, only 30 (32 percent) were known to be belted.”

Cass County led the way in 2011 with eight unbelted vehicle occupants suffering severe injuries. In other area counties occupants not wearing seat belts accounted for: four fatalities and four severe injuries in Mille Lacs County; two fatalities and two severe injuries in Morrison County; three severe injuries in Wadena County; one fatal and one severe injury in Crow Wing County; and one severe injury in Aitkin County.


Besides impaired driving, and now issues of distracted driving as motorists continue to text while driving, speed continues to kill.

Between 2009-2011, the DPS reported 22 people died in the seven-county area in crashes related to speed and 40 vehicle occupants suffered severe injuries. Mille Lacs County had the highest numbers with five fatalities and nine severe injuries in speed-related crashed followed closely by Morrison County with five fatalities and eight severe injuries. In the other counties: Aitkin County had three fatalities and four severe injuries; Cass County had two fatalities and seven severe injuries; Crow Wing County had four fatalities and six severe injuries; and Todd County had three fatalities and six severe injuries.

To view the full report, go to statistics/Pages/impaired-driving-facts.aspx.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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