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Watch out for DWI crackdown

To help keep the holiday season safe, troopers from the Detroit Lakes and Thief River Falls districts of the Minnesota State Patrol will conduct extra DWI patrols as part of a Minnesota-wide crackdown throughout December.

The timing of the effort is relevant, since December is among the deadliest months for alcohol-related crashes and DWI arrests.

Last year in Minnesota December had the highest number of alcohol related crashes with 425. Eleven of those crashes resulted in 12 deaths.

The enforcement campaign includes participation from around 400 Minnesota law enforcement agencies, all deploying extra officers to work overtime hours targeting impaired drivers.

A DWI can cost up to $20,000 when factoring in increased insurance costs, legal and other fees.

There are more than 500,000 Minnesotans with a DWI on record -- translating to one in eight Minnesota drivers with a DWI.

In 2008, alcohol-related crashes accounted for 163 traffic deaths and 2,896 injuries. These crashes and fatalities have been declining in recent years, and Trooper Andy Schmidt says "I believe these DWI enforcement campaigns have been a major factor in contributing to this trend."

While the 163 deaths in 2008 is a record low for alcohol-related deaths, drinking-and-driving crashes still account for more than a third of all traffic deaths annually.

Each year around 75 percent of the impaired drivers killed in crashes are also not belted.

"In the conversations I have had with other officers so far this year," Schmidt said, "only a few DWI arrests have resulted from traffic stops made because a driver was not wearing a seat belt ... However, this DWI campaign may see some assistance from the primary seat belt law that may help officers remove some impaired drivers before they can cause harm on our roadways."

In 2008 in northwestern Minnesota there were 22 alcohol-related deaths of which 11 victims were unbelted. Statewide, there were 111 vehicle occupant alcohol-related deaths with 69 of those unbelted.

"Most of the people we arrest for DWI get arrested because they simply failed to have an alternate plan for getting home safely" said Schmidt.

"If you think wearing a seat belt is uncomfortable, try wearing a body cast. Or if you think the idea of making an alternate plan sucks, just wait until you spend some time in my motel. Our room service is a little different and no you do not get to pick your view or roommate."

The DWI enforcement is funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and administered by the Department of Public Safety. The campaign is a component of the state's cornerstone traffic safety platform, Toward Zero Deaths.

TZD uses a multidisciplinary approach to reduce crashes, fatalities and injuries through enhanced enforcement, improved engineering, educational outreach and efficient emergency trauma response.