State launches end-of-summer DWI crackdownby Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Authorities around Minnesota will crack down on impaired drivers for two weeks, starting today, as part of a nationwide drunk driving campaign.
The Department of Public Safety is coordinating the campaign, called "Drunk Driving -- Over the Limit. Under Arrest." The state is partnering with about 400 law enforcement departments around the state.
According to the Department of Public Safety, about 100 people are arrested for DWI every day in Minnesota. In 2008, 35,736 motorists were arrested for DWI, and 163 people were killed in alcohol-related deaths in Minnesota.
"We're not out to ruin anybody's fun," said Lt. Matt Langer, a spokesman with the Minnesota State Patrol. "We encourage you to enjoy what's left of summer, and enjoy fall as you go back to school. But we ask you to make that effort to plan on how you're going to get home, so you don't get caught in a jam where you attempt to get home safely and either run into one of us, or worse, run into someone else."
The campaign will last through Labor Day and will combine enhanced DWI patrols with seat belt enforcement, Langer said.
Minnesota's new primary seat belt law requires drivers and passengers in all seating positions, including the back seat, to be buckled up or in the correct child restraint.
Law enforcement officials can stop motorists for seat belt violations, including unbelted passengers.
Between 2006 to 2008, nearly 80 percent of impaired drivers killed were not wearing seat belts, according to Cheri Marti, director of the DPS Office of Traffic Safety.
Marti also noted a new trend that's raised concern -- an increase in the number of drunk drivers who are women.
"There really has been a cultural shift in some of the responsibilities between men and women in sharing those driving responsibilities," Marti said. "So we're seeing more women behind the wheel. It's no longer assumed that it's going to be the husband or the male to drive."
Nationwide, the number of women arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol increased nearly 30 percent between 1998 and 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. During the same period, the number of men arrested for the same crime fell nearly 8 percent.
Langer said all drivers, regardless of gender, need to plan ahead and avoid impaired driving.
"It's not about male or female, young or old. It's about the impairment," said Langer. "A 21-year-old impaired female is just as dangerous as a 56-year-old impaired male. So it's easy to get caught up in where's the most dangerous activity. But the root cause of this is that true impairment, regardless of age or gender."