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New Year's DWIs trending down

Over the past 10 years, there have been an average of 271 DWI citations in the state during New Year's celebrations, with 435 during the 2005-06 celebrations being the highest. However, the number of statewide citations has not cracked 200 in the...

Over the past 10 years, there have been an average of 271 DWI citations in the state during New Year's celebrations, with 435 during the 2005-06 celebrations being the highest. However, the number of statewide citations has not cracked 200 in the past three years.

The Pine River Police Department did not issue any DWIs over the holiday. Police chief Paul Sand said that New Year celebrations in Pine River have been fairly safe through the years, but he believes the statewide decrease is due in part to partiers being educated to the dangers and consequences of getting behind the wheel while impaired.

"There is a lot of information getting out there," Sand said. "You see more people being wiser about using sober rides, and now some places are providing sober rides. I think that is part of the reason we are seeing that."

He also believes that the increased presence of law enforcement on that night is enough to dissuade individuals from trying to drive after a few drinks.

Breezy Point police have issued no DWIs on New Year's Eve or New Year's Day in the past five years. Police chief Kevin Merschman indicated that New Year's Eve is not the only day of the year that is seeing a decrease in people driving while intoxicated.

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"Our DWIs are way down in general, because more people are using shuttle buses," Merschman said. "People's perception of driving drunk has changed considerably. I do honestly believe less people are driving drunk. There are still too many doing it, as one death is one too many, but our arrests are plummeting."

According to Crow Wing County Chief Deputy Dennis Lasher, the sheriff's department actually saw an increase in New Year's DWIs over the previous year, but the number throughout the year has gone down.

"I think there are quite a few factors that play into that," Lasher said. "You have more sober drivers to take a group of people. More people are taking taxis and establishments are providing shuttle services, which has helped. Over the New Year celebration, more people are having house parties, and people are just not as out and about anymore."

Nisswa police chief Craig Taylor said Nisswa also has seen a downward trend in DWIs over the last several years. He believes there are primarily three reasons for this: increased education and awareness of the public; increased fines and penalties; and availability in safe ride type taxi services.

Pequot Lakes police chief Eric Klang said his department issued just one DWI over the holiday. Crosslake police also issued one DWI on New Year's Eve.

Klang believes the overall decrease in DWI arrests is thanks in part to the Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths (TZD) campaign.

"I think our efforts with the TZD campaign have certainly decreased the number that law enforcement statewide has been arresting," Klang said. "Now people are thinking twice about drinking and driving. I think there are a lot of radios ads about not drinking and driving. I don't think it is as socially acceptable as it has been in the past as well."

According to Klang, the number of statewide drunk-driving fatalities was down 54 percent from 2003 to 2013.

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"It has a lot to do with education, and a lot to do with enforcement," Klang said.

Related Topics: POLICE
Dan Determan has been a reporter for the Echo Journal since 2014, primarily covering sports at Pequot Lakes and Pine River-Backus
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