Special to the Star News
Roads in Minnesota’s 13 counties with the highest combined totals of alcohol-related traffic deaths and serious injuries will be hot spots for increased DWI enforcement through September, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Office of Traffic Safety.
New to the “13 counties” list is Sherburne County; taken off the list from 2011 was Itasca County.
Heightened enforcement in the 13 counties began in October 2011 as part of the 12-month federally funded enforcement program (October 2011–September 2012).
Alcohol-related fatalities, injuries and DWIs have dropped in recent years — there were 131 alcohol-related deaths in 2010, the lowest on record. Officials say enforcement and education is contributing to this trend. Still, each year alcohol-related crashes account for one-third of the state’s total road deaths.
“DWI enforcement and education are solid, necessary tools to address this ongoing issue,” says Jean Ryan, DPS Office of Traffic Safety impaired driving coordinator. “But to really reduce impaired driving incidents, we need every Minnesotan to do their part to make sure they don’t take the risk.”
Agencies in the 13 counties will use high-visibility enforcement tactics to alert motorists of increased enforcement — including electronic message board signage and heavy patrols along specific corridors. Advertising will accompany the enforcement to encourage Minnesotans to avoid driving impaired.
The announcement of the 13 targeted DWI counties follows a statewide December enhanced DWI enforcement effort that resulted in the arrest of 2,573 motorists.
A DWI offense can result in loss of license for up to a year, thousands in costs and possible jail time. New, stronger sanctions are in effect for all repeat DWI offenders, as well as for motorists arrested for a first-time DWI with an alcohol-concentration level of 0.16 and above. Under these sanctions, these DWI offenders must use ignition interlock for at least a year or face at least one year without driving privileges. Interlock requires the driver to provide a breath sample under .02 for the vehicle to start.
DWI enforcement and education is a component of the state’s core traffic safety initiative, Toward Zero Deaths (TZD). A primary vision of the TZD program is to create a safe driving culture in Minnesota in which motorists support a goal of zero road fatalities by practicing and promoting safe and smart driving behavior. TZD focuses on the application of four strategic areas to reduce crashes — education, enforcement, engineering and emergency trauma response.
The following 13 counties accounted for nearly half of the state’s alcohol-related deaths (202) and half of the state’s serious injuries (462) during 2008–2010:
4. St. Louis