State Patrol stepping up DWI patrols this weekendby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The Department of Public Safety is stepping up efforts this weekend to nab drunk drivers and thwart seat-belt violators around the state.
Officials will set up enhanced DWI patrols -- as part of Operation NightCAP, or Night Concentrated Alcohol Patrol -- throughout the weekend in Anoka, Blue Earth, Crow Wing, Dakota, Hennepin, Itasca, Ramsey, Rice, St. Louis, Sherburne, Stearns, Washington and Wright counties.
Last year, alcohol-related crashes accounted for five of the eight motorists killed on the Fourth of July. Another 1,819 motorists were arrested for DWI, officials said.
"Unfortunately, every holiday weekend has the potential to be a tragic one on Minnesota roads," State Patrol Lt. Matt Langer said. "Understanding the importance of driving safe, smart and sober is the simple answer to stopping these preventable deaths and injuries."
Officials say holidays are dangerous times of the year for Minnesota motorists, because more drivers hit the road after a few drinks and there's an increased number of motorists traveling at all hours.
At least 12 people died in car accidents during the recent Memorial Day weekend, making it the deadliest unofficial start of summer Minnesotans have seen since 1996, according to state figures.
At least two of the seven motorists who died were not wearing seat belts, officials said. In one collision, a pickup truck slammed into a minivan, killing five people and critically injuring one. Officials said the driver of the pickup truck had been drinking.
A statewide primary seat belt law went into effect on June 9, meaning drivers and passengers in all seating positions must be buckled up or in the correct child restraint.
Police are also telling drivers to stay focused, drive well-rested and at safe speeds, use a designated driver and move over for emergency responders.
Nationwide, fewer people died on the nation's highways during the first three months of 2009 as motor vehicle fatalities continued to fall to levels not seen in nearly a half-century.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday about 7,689 motorists were killed in the months of January through March, a 9 percent decline from a year ago.
The government estimated that 37,261 motorists died in 2008, the fewest since 1961. If the 2009 fatality trends continue, fewer than 31,000 people will die nationwide this year.