The number of motorists arrested during a statewide drunken driving crackdown over the holidays fell to a six-year low, with law enforcement issuing 1,383 citations.
That was about 1,000 fewer than police issued during a similar four-week enforcement in 2019 between Thanksgiving weekend and New Year's Day. The decline coincided with a 19% drop in DWI arrests for all of 2020, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
Public safety officials attributed the large decrease over the holidays to COVID-19 restrictions that kept bars and restaurants closed for indoor service and saw fewer motorists on the road.
Holidays often yield some of the year's highest drunken driving arrest totals. The 92 drunken driving arrests on New Year's Eve, one of the biggest party nights of the year, was down from 138 in 2019.
Under state law, a motorist is considered drunk when operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.08% or above. During the four-week enforcement, at least six drivers stopped were more than four times above the legal limit for driving. The highest was a driver in Morrison County cited with a 0.39% blood alcohol level. In Eden Prairie, where police made 11 drunken driving arrests during the crackdown, six drivers had blood alcohol content of 0.24% or higher, DPS officials said.
Repeat offenders and first-time offenders arrested with a blood alcohol level of 0.16% or higher have their driver's license canceled for a year unless they use ignition interlock to regain legal driving privileges.
In Deer River, police arrested a motorist who has had seven drunken driving convictions, including four within the last 10 years. An Elk River officer made two drunken driving arrests in a single stop when the driver and passenger switched places after they pulled over. In Nisswa, officers arrested a drunken driver who had five children in the car.
The State Patrol handed out 297 citations, the most of any agency in the state. St. Paul police had the second most with 40, DPS data shows.
For the year, law enforcement made 22,653 drunken driving arrests. That compared with 27,975 in 2019 and was the fewest since 2016, the data showed.
In 2021, police will conduct drunken driving enforcement campaigns Aug. 20-Sept. 6 and on weekends in November and December.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768