ST. PAUL — Driving while impaired arrests were up 4% last year in Minnesota compared with 2018, according to preliminary information released last week.
The overall numbers have been trending down for years, though there has been a substantial increase in arrests of people driving while under the influence of drugs. There were 78% more controlled-substance DWI cases between 2013 and 2017 compared to the five previous years, data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety shows.
“The upward trend has continued beyond that,” said Mike Hanson, Minnesota’s Office of Traffic Safety director, on Friday. “I think there are more people abusing more substances out there, and troopers, deputies and officers are also getting much better at recognizing someone who is impaired and taking action.”
The drugs range from marijuana, methamphetamine, opioids, prescription and over-the-counter medications, Hanson said.
Overall, 27,975 drivers were arrested for DWI last year throughout Minnesota, compared with 26,825 in 2018, according to preliminary reports from DPS.
“It’s a bit concerning that we see our numbers above where were in 2018, but if we look at the long-term trend we’re still heading in the right direction,” Hanson said.
Since 1998, the peak in DWI arrests came in 2006 with 42,000. The numbers decreased each year until a slight uptick in 2017, and then the increase from 2018 to 2019.
Hanson said factors that could contribute to the increase include:
Recent changes to impaired driving laws that have made it easier for law enforcement to enforce them.
New electronic systems that cut down on the time for officers to get search warrants to test the blood or urine of suspected impaired drivers and to charge them.
Funding officers throughout the state to work fulltime on getting impaired drivers off the roads. The 18 officers in the program were responsible for more than 7% of all DWI arrests made in the state, and additional DWI officers will be added this year.
There were 364 traffic deaths in Minnesota last year, compared with 381 in 2018, according to the preliminary information. Of last year’s fatalities, at least 27 were known to be distraction-related, 71 were speed-related, 102 were alcohol-related and 72 were not wearing their seatbelts.
Hanson encouraged people to speak up if they see someone who is impaired and about to get behind the wheel.
“When you look at where we’re at in 2020, there’s really no good excuses to be arrested for DWI anywhere in Minnesota — there are too many options out there,” Hanson said. “People need to have a plan for getting back home safely and making sure you don’t wind up in the back of a squad car, an ambulance or, heaven forbid, a hearse.”