In 2019, 27,975 Minnesota motorists were cited for driving while impaired (DWI). Of these, while the majority were, in fact, under the influence of alcohol, a growing number is under the influence of drugs, primarily opioids, methamphetamines, and cannabis. In fact, the number of drug-impaired drivers arrested between 2013 and 2017 were 78 percent higher than between 2008 and 2012. Further, these substances were responsible for a nearly five percent increase in DWI arrests when compared with 2018.
At one point, Minnesota was enjoying a steady decrease in DWI arrests since the figure peaked in 2006 at 42,000. However, in the past couple of years, this number has been rising. In fact, between 6 pm New Year’s Eve and 6 am New Year’s Day, 187 people were arrested for DWI. Last year, in 2018, officers made 111 DWI arrests.
According to Director of Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Mike Hanson, while this increase is due, in part, to more intoxicated drivers hitting the road, it can also be attributed to better enforcement which include specialized officers whose only function is to identify and arrest impaired drivers as well as increased training for police to better identify motorists who are under the influence of drugs, the advent of e-warrants which facilitate law enforcement efforts to obtain blood or urine samples, and new laws.
Increased enforcement efforts
Some states have taken steps to make existing laws even more stringent with respect to DWIs. In Utah, for example, law enforcement officers can arrest a motorist with a .05 blood alcohol concentration (BAC). While Minnesota’s legal limit remains at .08 like the majority of other states, impaired motorists with lower BAC can be arrested and charged if the motorist exhibits dangerous behaviors.
Prior to 2018, officers who made a stop were required to determine what, exactly, was the substance impairing the driver before making an arrest. Recent legislative changes included language that included “all impairing substances”, thus enabling police to only have to determine that a driver was, in fact, impaired.
Further, the DPS launched a program in 2015 that gave 18 full-time police officers the sole function of targeting and arresting intoxicated drivers. These officers are used primarily nights and weekends in those counties with the highest number of DWI arrests. DPS has since added six additional officers this year to improve these efforts. As a result, between 1 October 2018 and 30 September 2019, these officers made 1,800 DWI arrests, thus accounting for seven percent of all such arrests in the state.
Despite many states such as Minnesota improving their ability to detect and arrest intoxicated drivers, in numerous jurisdictions, DWI arrests remain high. In fact, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)