SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $1 for 3 months
SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $1 for 3 months

Extra enforcement kicks in for the holidays as Minnesota reaches 2019 fatality levels

Clairissa Baker
St. Cloud Times

ST. CLOUD — During the holiday season, law enforcement statewide is conducting extra enforcement aimed at impaired driving through the end of December. 

While alcohol-related traffic deaths are slightly down from the same time last year, Minnesota is on track to reach around 400 fatalities for the year.

The state has reported 364 deaths since Jan. 1, compared to 364 fatalities in all of 2019. 

"We're going in the wrong direction," said Mike Hanson, director of the Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety. "Our fatality rate is well above where it was last year, and the year before and the year before." 

The extra enforcement project — which runs holidays and weekends Nov. 25-Dec. 31— is based on data that shows the period between the Wednesday before Thanksgiving right through New Year's Eve is a time where the state sees an increase in impaired drivers, according to Hanson. 

Around the Thanksgiving holiday, 267 DWI arrests were made across the state from 6 p.m. Wednesday to 6 a.m. Monday.

More than 300 local law enforcement agencies in the state participate in the campaign, including agencies in Central Minnesota, such as the Benton County Sheriff's Office. The Stearns County Sheriff's Office was not immediately available for comment. 

According to Sheriff Troy Heck, despite various shutdowns this year aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, the county has not seen a significant change in the number of DWIs, which have remained steady. 

Anecdotally, Heck said, the county has seen more high speeds this year as well as distracted driving. 

Hanson said high speeds have been seen across the state, and less traffic does not give people license to break the law and drive recklessly. 

"They are taking advantage of a horrible situation and making it worse," he said. 

Recent deaths on Minnesota roads included a 36-year-old who died in a rollover crash in Benton County, according to a DPS release. 

In 2020, 107 fatalities were speed-related compared to 68 this time last year. 97 fatalities are alcohol related this year compared to 103 at the same time last year, according to DPS. 

And 92 fatalities involved an unbelted motorist compared to 66 last year. 

"While the emphasis is on the impaired driving enforcement, we can't forget about the other big three reasons that most fatal and serious injury crashes result from," said Hanson, referring to speed, distracted driving and unrestrained occupants. 

Driving safely

When it comes to impaired driving, Hanson said, it comes down to planning ahead. 

There are so many options available, according to Hanson, such as ride shares, designated drivers or finding a place to stay. 

People should make a plan and stick to it to avoid an impairment-related arrest or crash. 

According to DPS, Minnesotans can take these steps to help reduce the number of impaired drivers on the roads: 

• Plan for a safe ride such as a ride share service or designated driver. 

•  Make sure you designate a sober driver or crash on a couch, not in a vehicle, if you're leaving family gatherings.

• Offer to be a designated driver or be available to pick up a loved one anytime, anywhere.

•  Wear a seatbelt.

•  Call 911 to report drunk driving if you see it, prepare to give location, license plate number and observed behavior.

"When you think about it, there is no excuse for anybody to wind up with an impaired driving arrest or an impaired driving crash with the number of options that are available out there," Hanson said. 

Clairissa Baker is the public safety watchdog reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-255-8740 or cmbaker@stcloudtimes.com. Follow her on Twitter @ClairissaBaker.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to sctimes.com today.