What’s Driving DWIs Up – And Down – In Minnesota

Minnesota drunk driving downMinnesota is the latest example of the ups and downs of drunk driving in America. For the last 10 years, both DWIs and alcohol-related road fatalities have been declining, which is great news. A recent report by the Minnesota Office of Public Safety notes that road deaths involving alcohol went from 134 in 2006 to 95 in 2015. DWI arrests declined from 42,000 in 2006 to 25,000 last year. Minnesota drunk driving appears, in general, to be on the wane.

The only hitch: last year’s fatalities were up slightly, from 88 to 95.

What’s Bringing DWIs Down?

The general success of Minnesota’s anti-drunk-driving efforts bears some examination. In the news release, Donna Berger, director of the Office of Traffic Safety, said that “enforcement, laws and awareness” were the factors that had helped shift Minnesotans’ attitudes about impaired driving.

  • Enforcement: Minnesota engages in enforcement campaigns during dangerous times, such as holiday weekends, targeting drunk drivers. The Office of Traffic Safety targeted 25 counties for enhanced DWI patrols these last two years.
  • Laws: Minnesota requires ignition interlocks for all drunk driving convictions involving a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .16 or more. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.In the last 3 years the number of interlocks in use has almost doubled, to nearly 10,000 devices. Interlocks are known to reduce recidivism among drunk drivers, and in fact, recidivism has declined to an impressive e degree in recent years.
  • Awareness: Most crucial in the fight against drunk driving is the public’s involvement. In particular, a taboo against impaired driving must become part of the zeitgeist – drunk driving needs to be unfashionable and unglamorous. And this appears to be happening. It’s been happening all over the country since the 1980s and the “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk” campaign, but Minnesota has added its own spin with some clever ads from the Department of Public Safety.

Of course, it takes more than ads – it takes a tireless commitment to drumming the message into every head in the state: find a designated driver or another safe ride home.

What’s Driving DWIs Up?

Minnesota had an uptick in DWI deaths last year, and the culprit was probably the economy. Better employment figures coupled with cheaper gas meant that more people bought cars and took to the road in Minnesota and elsewhere. Even if the percentage of drunk drivers stayed the same or declined slightly, the absolute numbers could creep up.

What’s Next for Minnesota?

The OPS report makes it clear that Minnesota has not solved its DWI problem. The state is “still seeing too many lives affected and lost by poor choices behind the wheel.” The gains that have been made so far have hardly been low-hanging fruit – they were hard won through persistence and wise application of methods that work (enforcement, laws and awareness). It might take a lot more of these – and perhaps something not yet thought of – to bring about a similar drop in Minnesota drunk driving fatalities during the next ten years.