Cynthia Terry, staff writer
Augsburg’s Educating Peers on Issues and Choices (EPIC) group held an event to educate students about the dangers of drunk driving on Thursday. An MN state trooper spoke to attendees as well as an Augsburg student who spoke about his own experience receiving a DWI (driving while intoxicated).
Drunk driving related fatalities in Minnesota decreased by 25 percent between 2010 and 2014. Still, despite years of education and public safety messages that impaired driving is extremely dangerous, 1 in 7 licensed Minnesotans have at least one DWI on their driving record. This means that more than 600,000 drivers in the state have one DWI, and more than 240,000 have multiple infractions. For people charged with DWI, about 40% will violate the law again. About half of them will go on to a third DWI, and half of this group will go on to a 4th DWI. In many states, including Minnesota, some drivers with DWI incidents on their records have to obtain special registration plates, commonly called “whiskey plates.”
While most people associate DWI with alcohol, and nearly one out of every four deaths on Minnesota roads is drunk-driving related, drugs that can lead to an arrest for DWI include marijuana, heroin and other illegal drugs, as well as prescription and over-the-counter medications. Any drug, whether illegal, prescription or over-the-counter, can impair a person’s ability to safely operate a vehicle.
To reduce the number of drunk drivers on the roadways, Minnesota has recently implemented several strategies, including the ignition interlock device program. The interlock device is a breathalyzer built into a car that prevents the car from starting if the driver has more than 0.02 blood alcohol content. The Minnesota Driver and Vehicle Services states that “first-time alcohol offenders with an alcohol concentration of 0.16 or above and all second-time alcohol offenders” must participate in the program for three to six years before they get their full driving privileges back. Since 2011, 14,000 Minnesotans have participated in the ignition interlock program. This is expected to reduce the recidivism rate.
Another effort to curb DWIs is the SafeCab program. In eight counties, SafeCab gives bar patrons free rides home up to $15 fare.
The legal blood alcohol content level for driving is 0.08. Anything above that is considered to be too much impairment, although even a little alcohol can impair a driver. It is extremely dangerous to drive or operate not only cars, but any vehicle, when under the influence of drugs and or alcohol. It puts not only the driver at risk but also the innocent people around them.
Many anti-DWI organizations have come up with ways to reduce the risk from alcohol abuse. They spread the message that it is your opportunity to make choices and to take action to protect your health and safety. It starts with choosing whether or not to drink before you go out. If you choose to drink, they say, stick to a low-risk limit, space out your drinks and alternate alcoholic beverages with a bottle of water or a soft drink and food. Don’t engage in high-risk behaviors, and if people around you have had too much to drink, they add, avoid engaging in their high risk behaviors.