Minnesota Lowers the Aggravated DWI Threshold – Superdrunk Drivers Beware!

Aggravated-DWI-limitIn some states they’re called “superdrunks” – people whose blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is much higher than the countrywide legal limit of .08. Other states call it “extreme DUI.” Most states
use twice the limit, or .16, as the superdrunk standard. If you’re caught driving with that much alcohol in your system, you’re in for more serious punishments. Michigan, for example, stipulates mandatory alcohol treatment, more jail time, stiffer fines, and longer suspensions for a superdrunk violation.

Now Minnesota is about to lower to .16 the threshold for what that state calls aggravated DWI. Currently that limit is .20.

The difference is in how the courts will treat an offender whose breath test registers .16 or more at a DWI stop. An aggravated DWI is a gross misdemeanor, rather than the standard misdemeanor that a DWI offender who tests under .16 would face. A gross misdemeanor can be punished with up to a year in jail, a $3,000 fine, or both. Drunk drivers at this level will also have to post bail of $12,000 just to be let out of jail before trial. The standard misdemeanor DWI carries a 90-day maximum jail term, and a $1,000 fine.

Minnesota also has a strong vehicle forfeiture law. DWI lawyers in Minnesota are concerned that more offenders will be saying goodbye to their Camrys and Camaros as a result of the new standard.

Not everyone is convinced the new lower standard is a good idea, but what is not in doubt is that it will result in more arrests every year – about 3,000, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

What’s the rationale for the lower limit? At .16 BAC, a driver has dramatically reduced muscle control, attention, balance, and visual and auditory abilities. A person with that much alcohol in them is a definite menace on the road, and has absolutely no business driving.

So the issue is not more arrests, higher fines, revenue-grabbing by the state (a favorite complaint of anti-drunk-driving legislation advocates), but a genuine need to define realistically what a public safety hazard is. Word is that the Governor Dayton will be signing the bill, as well he should.

What’s still missing from Minnesota’s DWI laws is a comprehensive ignition interlock law that requires all DWI offenders, including first offenders with a BAC of .08 or above, to install an interlock device in their vehicle. Ignition interlocks are known to reduce alcohol-related  road fatalities.

Still, the new aggravated DWI blood alcohol standard shows that Minnesota is looking for ways to make the state’s roads safer. Extreme DWI laws today – perhaps ignition interlocks tomorrow. It’s all progress.