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DWI crackdown now under way

Minnesota law enforcement agencies statewide are cracking down on impaired drivers as part of a nationwide Drunk Driving -- Over the Limit. Under Arrest. enforcement campaign that runs through Monday.

Around 400 agencies will participate in the effort coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and aimed at taking impaired drivers off the road and encouraging motorists to make safe decisions.

In Minnesota, around 100 people are arrested for DWI daily. In 2008, 35,736 motorists were arrested for DWI. A first-time DWI offense will trigger an automatic driver's license revocation for a minimum of 90 days. The cost of a DWI can reach $20,000 when factoring in legal, court and administrative fees.

DPS reports enhanced DWI enforcement campaigns factored in the state tallying a record-low number of alcohol-related deaths (163) in 2008. Despite the drop in deaths, DPS reports alcohol-related crashes still accounted for more than one-third of all deaths -- typical for each year. In the last three years, 2006-2008, 519 motorists were killed and another 1,159 motorists were seriously injured in alcohol-related crashes statewide.

The DWI enforcement effort will also focus on motorcyclists -- rider deaths continue to surge in 2009, out-pacing last year's 24-year high in fatalities. DPS cites drinking and riding as a major factor in rider deaths -- in 2008, 47 percent of the riders killed in crashes tested positive for alcohol.

"DWI enforcement efforts are crucial to limiting these preventable traffic deaths," says Cheri Marti, director of the DPS Office of Traffic Safety. "But law enforcement is just one component in the fight against impaired driving -- every motorist must do their part to keep Minnesota roads safe by always planning for a sober ride and always wearing their seat belt."

Minnesota law enforcement agencies will combine the enhanced DWI patrols with seat belt enforcement. 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 can stop motorists solely for seat belt violations, including unbelted passengers. During 2006-2008, 79 percent of impaired drivers killed were not wearing a seat belt.

While young men continue to be the primary DWI violators, DPS says female impaired drivers are an emerging issue. Since 1999, female DWI offenses have increased 6 percent -- a significant gain -- and they now represent a fourth of all DWI offenses.

Minnesota law states motorists can be arrested for impaired driving even if their alcohol-concentration level is under 0.08 -- the state's legal limit -- if they demonstrate impaired driving behavior.