DULUTH, Minn. -- The coronavirus pandemic disrupting the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans appears to have at least one silver lining: far fewer impaired drivers and crashes on Minnesota roads.
The Minnesota State Patrol recorded 88 DWI arrests between March 17 and Thursday morning, down sharply from 204 during the same time period last year. Meanwhile, troopers responded to 389 crashes during that time frame, about half as many as 2019’s tally of 762.
In an effort to slow the virus’s spread, Gov. Tim Walz ordered bars and restaurants to close their doors for dine-in service starting March 17, an edict he has since extended to May 1. Starting 11:59 p.m. Friday, the state will be under a “stay at home” order for at least two weeks, which the Democratic governor said was needed to “buy more time” for the health care system.
On Thursday, Minnesota reported a total of 346 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Officials also announced the state’s second death from the virus.
The pandemic has prompted officials to urge residents to largely keep away from one another to avoid contracting or passing on the virus. Using smartphone data, tech company Unacast this week said there was a 46% drop in the average distance Minnesotans traveled, earning the state an A grade for its social distancing efforts.
Police departments in the state have also taken steps to stop the virus’s spread, including regularly sanitizing squad cars and maintaining their officers’ distance from members of the public when possible.
The Moorhead Police Department, meanwhile, has seen a sharp decline in March DWI arrests, from 17 at this time in 2019 to just four this year, Capt. Deric Swenson said Wednesday.
“Impaired drivers have gone down significantly,” he said. “We don’t have establishments for people to be driving drunk home from.”
Bars and restaurants can still provide delivery and carry-out service, and liquor stores will remain open under Walz’s stay-at-home order.
In Duluth, police haven’t seen a change in the type or amount of calls for service, said Public Information Officer Ingrid Hornibrook. But she said the data may be inconclusive in the early days of the pandemic response.
The Minnesota State Patrol said troopers have received more reports of aggressive driving and speeding, some clocking in at more than 100 mph.
“COVID-19 is not a license to speed, drive impaired, or make other poor decisions behind the wheel,” Col. Matt Langer, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol, said in a statement. “We owe it to everyone who needs to be on the road right now to maintain order and provide for safe travel. Let’s make sure hospital beds are available for those dealing with COVID-19. Preventing critical injuries from a crash can help make that happen.”