Fewer drunken driving arrests were made this New Year’s Eve in Minnesota compared with last year, and law enforcement officials say the tally fits with a broader trend.
Between 4 p.m. Wednesday and 8 a.m. Thursday, there were 174 arrests across Minnesota for people charged with drunken driving. That’s down from 191 arrests last year during New Year’s Eve, according to data from the Minnesota State Patrol.
There have been fewer than 200 drunken driving arrests on New Year’s Eve statewide during each of the past four years, the State Patrol says. That’s a change from the preceding seven years, when annual tallies routinely exceeded 250 arrests.
“When we arrest 174 people in less than 24 hours, there’s still people out there making poor choices,” said Lt. Tiffani Nielson of the Minnesota State Patrol. “Those are the ones that are risking their own lives, [and] they’re risking innocent motorists’ lives out there. We’re going to continue to educate and enforce.”
The decline stems from a number of factors, Nielson said, including efforts to educate drivers about the risks of drunken driving.
Programs that provide free bus and cab rides to drivers on New Year’s Eve have helped, Nielson said. Plus, Minnesota counties that have seen the most drunken driving deaths, injuries and arrests receive extra funding for enforcement activities on holidays when many drink alcohol.
Enforcement activities can range from more police officers watching for reckless driving, to high-visibility policing of certain roads. Other holidays where more people are out drinking, Nielsen said, include St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day and the night before Thanksgiving.
“It is a nationwide trend that we’re seeing a decline,” she said of the arrests.
The enforcement is part of a broader state effort to curb drunken driving. Starting Jan. 1, Minnesota expanded from 10 to 13 the number of DWI court programs, with new programs in Norman, Polk and Red Lake counties.
The courts are aimed at reducing the number of repeat drunken-driving offenders by combining drug and alcohol treatment with the criminal justice system. The programs pair frequent court appearances and random drug testing with ongoing counseling, treatment and other social services.
A recent study of nine existing DWI courts in Minnesota found the programs save taxpayers about $700,000 a year. The new DWI courts are being funded by a $300,000 grant from the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety.