WORTHINGTON — With DWI offenses on the rise, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety is encouraging both law enforcement agencies and the public to take measures that will increase road safety.
"There is no excuse," said DPS Office of Traffic Safety director Mike Hanson, "to end up in the back of a squad car, an ambulance or — God forbid — a hearse because of impaired driving."
Hanson offered a simple suggestion that will keep impaired drivers off the road: "Plan ahead."
Worthington has a number of resources that can help folks plan ahead. Worthington Taxi runs 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. After those hours, local Lyft drivers are available to supplement rides. During community events, local businesses such as Pulver Towing commonly offer free rides home.
If none of those options are viable, it may be best to ask a friend ahead of time or bring a designated driver to the bar.
Although Hanson noted that "impaired driving is impaired driving" according to Minnesota law, law enforcement uses different strategies for policing DWI depending on the impairing substance.
In the case of illegal drugs or misused prescription drugs, law enforcement agencies use drug recognition experts (DREs). An officer becomes a DRE through a 10-day class and a period of in-person training. A DRE can do a clinical evaluation that determines whether or not a person is impaired, and then what category of drug is impairing them. A blood test confirms the clinical evaluation.
Minnesota employs 300 DREs statewide; southwest Minnesota has 19. Three law enforcement offices in The Globe's coverage area use DREs — Minnesota State Patrol, the Mountain Lake Police Department and Pipestone County Sheriff's Office.
If a driver is impaired by alcohol, law enforcement uses a breathalyzer exam and field sobriety tests before charging someone with a DWI.
DPS periodically offers enforcement grants that fund overtime shifts for officers to focus specifically on apprehending impaired drivers. Worthington Police Department Capt. Kevin Flynn confirmed that when these initiatives occur, WPD participates.
Hanson noted that the most important statistic surrounding DWIs is zero: the goal for traffic deaths. Additional enforcement seems to have made a difference in that regard, he added — impaired driving used to account for 60% traffic deaths and now makes up only 30%.
Although being arrested for DWI is unpleasant, it's ultimately positive for the community, Hanson said. The 67 DWI arrests made by WPD last year represent 67 potential traffic accidents avoided and lives saved.
Hanson also pointed out that most people arrested for DWI are "good people that made a bad decision." He encouraged community members to speak up to help their neighbors drive unimpaired.
"You need to intervene" if you witness a DWI hazard, he said. Residents may also join a safe roads coalition to do further DWI outreach.
Potential impaired drivers need to know they have options, Hanson concluded. If communities can help create options, all may contribute to safer roads.
This story is part two of a series regarding local DWI cases. For more news on DWI policing and prevention, see upcoming editions of The Globe or dglobe.com.