Holiday weekend brings more than 100 DWIs, 500 crashes across the state
Roads during Thanksgiving can be messy places: more people are on them, driving greater distances. Some of those drivers are tryptophan-tired, and some have had a glass (or a bottle) to take the edge off the in-laws. This year was no exception.
Between Wednesday and Sunday nights, the Minnesota State Patrol made 103 DWI arrests, and tallied 525 crashes, 317 off-roaded vehicles that needed towing, and two deaths: a 29-year-old Dawson resident and an 87-year-old from Pelican Rapids.
Those numbers, steep though they are, mean that this holiday was actually on the safe side. 2012 ranks with 2011 as having the fewest Thanksgiving fatalities in the past decade. In that time window, deaths peaked during the 2004 weekend, when 13 people died in road accidents.
"I hate to say, 'We're happy there were only two,'" says Eric Roeske, a spokesman for the state patrol. "We want to have zero."
Other holidays can also pose traffic challenges, but Thanksgiving particularly means long drives to see family and multi-day or -night events, as opposed to New Year's, which lasts just one day. On Thanksgivings between 2009 and 2011, 11 people died -- six as a result of drunk drivers -- and 1,631 were handed DWIs.
The state Office of Traffic Safety might be able to take some credit for this year's lower death rate. In advance of the notoriously treacherous travel weekend, the office announced plans to step up DWI patrols in 13 counties.
Those chosen counties account for nearly half the state's drunk driving deaths and alcohol-related injuries. Between 2009 and 2011, of 95,542 total DWIs statewide, the 13 racked up 58, 462 of them. Unsurprisingly, on the list of offending counties, Hennepin and Ramsey take a dubious gold and silver.
Though the increased monitoring started Nov. 21, it isn't a holiday-only precaution. Thanks to a federal grant, extra drunk driving patrols will be in effect in these counties through next fall.
Roeske says it's hard to know if announcements about increased enforcement kept impaired drivers off the roads, but that 100 DWI arrests over four days isn't significantly more than what he would see on a normal weekend.
"We know there's more people out celebrating," he says, "so if the number of arrests is comparable to a non-holiday weekend, that means we might have had some prevention."
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