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It's December: Time for a DWI crackdown

WORTHINGTON -- The stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year's is typically deadly on Minnesota roads, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS), and alcohol is definitely a contributing factor.

From 2006 to 2008, alcohol- related crashes in the month of December accounted for 44 traffic deaths and 76 serious injuries. During the same period, 9,903 motorists were arrested for driving while impaired (DWI).

To help change what the DPS refers to as a "deadly holiday tradition," the Minnesota State Patrol (MSP) has teamed with approximately 400 local law enforcement agencies to conduct one of the largest DWI enforcement crackdowns of 2009 throughout the month of December.

"Impaired driving is one of the holiday traditions we hope to stop with added patrols," said MSP Capt. Matt Langer in a report released Thursday. "While everyone knows the dangers of drinking and driving, it's clear not everyone understands the consequences."

In 2008, there were more alcohol-related crashes in December than in any other month -- 425, leading to 222 injuries and 12 deaths. More then 25 percent of the crashes involving alcohol occur on Saturdays, and the hour between 2 and 3 a.m. had the most accidents.

Lt. Brian West, Safe and Sober Officer for District 2300 of the MSP, said 83 hours of overtime patrol have been authorized in the district, which covers 13 counties including Nobles, Rock, Murray, Pipestone, Cottonwood and Jackson.

"That is a lot of hours," he said, "but we have a lot of area to cover."

A large amount of those patrol hours will take place between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m., the busiest time for intoxicated drivers. West said it also happens to be a time when many people don't buckle up.

"So many impaired drivers are unbelted," he stated.

The DPS statistics show 75 percent of the impaired drivers killed in crashes were not wearing seatbelts.

"It is a great concern," West explained. "But the primary seatbelt law has helped."

The primary seatbelt law became effective in June, and states drivers and passengers must be belted or in the correct child restraint. Law enforcement can stop and ticket drivers and passengers for belt violations. Authorities say the primary law serves as a tremendous tool in stopping impaired drivers because so many do not buckle up.

Many people, West said, assume the summer months see the most DWIs, but November and December numbers are up there, too.

In Nobles County in 2008, the highest number of DWIs in a month were given out in July, when law enforcement arrested 24 allegedly impaired drivers. June and February tied at eight for the lowest amount in a month; November and December had 15 each. Those numbers are from both the Nobles County Sheriff's Office and the Worthington Police Department.

Each year, alcohol-related crashes kill and injure hundreds of people, but the numbers have been declining in recent years. The enhanced DWI enforcement campaigns have been a major factor in Minnesota's continuing trend of a lower number of alcohol-related deaths, according to the DPS.

The December enforcement is funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and administered by the DPS. The effort is a component of the state's cornerstone traffic safety platform, Toward Zero Deaths (TZD).