Patrols to catch drunk drivers increase

Published 7:45 am Sunday, December 25, 2011

Law enforcement agencies in Freeborn County have increased patrols during the holidays to catch drunken drivers as part of a statewide campaign to combat an annual problem.

A similar push in Freeborn County last year resulted in 16 drunken driving arrests. And from 2008 to 2010 in Decembers in Minnesota, there were 89 traffic deaths, of which 24 were alcohol-related. In Freeborn County from 2008 to 2010, alcohol-related crashes accounted for seven deaths and eight serious injuries. During the same period, 562 were arrested for driving while intoxicated.

There was an average of 170 alcohol-related traffic deaths annually during the last five years in Minnesota — accounting for one-third of all state’s total road deaths annually. Alcohol-related deaths have been declining in recent years. In 2010, there were 131 alcohol-related deaths, the fewest on record.

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Albert Lea Police Department Lt. J.D. Carlson said enhanced enforcement campaigns have helped to prevent these tragedies.

“Each year, more than 30,000 people are arrested for DWIs; one in seven Minnesota drivers has a DWI on record,” he said.

The campaign is coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety. About 400 Minnesota law enforcement agencies will participate in the effort to identify and arrest impaired drivers and to encourage motorists to make safe decisions.

Participating agencies in Freeborn County are Minnesota State Patrol, Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office, and the Albert Lea Police Department.

“The holidays are a time for celebrating. They are not a time to throw common sense and safe driving choices out the window,” Carlson said. “Avoid the potentially deadly consequences of driving impaired, as well as the heavy costs and personal grief of a DWI — plan for a safe and sober ride.”

A drunken driving citation can result in loss of license for up to a year, thousands in costs and possible jail time. Stronger DWI sanctions are in effect for all repeat offenders, as well as for motorists arrested for a first-time DWI with a 0.16 and above alcohol-concentration level.

Under these sanctions, offenders must use ignition interlock for at least a year or face at least one year without driving privileges. Interlock requires a driver to provide a breath sample under 0.02 for the vehicle to start. Safety officials say interlock ensures offenders are driving legally and safely.

Carlson urged motorists to plan ahead for a safe ride home before celebrating: designate a sober driver, take a cab or public transportation, spend the night at the location of the celebration. Carlson added that families should let their loved ones know that they are willing and available to offer a safe ride at anytime if needed.

“Receiving a phone call at 3 a.m. from a family member is a lot better than receiving a knock on the door from a police officer, trooper or deputy,” Carlson said.

Lt. Carlson adds that motorists should report impaired driving — call 911 when witnessing impaired driving behavior. Witnesses must be prepared to provide location, license plate and observed dangerous behavior.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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