March 26, 2007

Wright County once again leads area in DWI crashes, convictions

News is surprise to none, since Wright has made state’s top 10 deadly list for past several years

By Lynda Jensen

Wright County once again leads the area for high statistics when it comes to numbers related to traffic crashes and impaired driving, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety.

Wright County registered 695 total DWI incidents in 2005, which is 60 percent higher than the state average of 425 for that year, according to an in-depth report recently released by the state.

Current figures reflect the same trend for Wright County, with the county placing eight on the list of 87 counties for the top number of crashes involving impaired drivers.

In 2006, approximately 36 percent of all fatal accidents across the state were associated with impaired drivers, but Wright County had an average of 50 percent, Chief Deputy Joe Hagerty of the Wright County Sheriff’s Department said.

“Half of those (numbers) were one-car accidents on a rural road with no seat belt,” he added.

Hagerty noted that the northeastern part of Wright County appeared to feature more nightlife and activity, which may lead to more accidents.

The conviction rate is also higher for Wright County when it comes to impaired drivers (see chart).

Carver County, which is included in the seven-county metro area, came in below the state average, with 415.

Metro counties are Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington.

McLeod County trailed with 266, which is a little over half the state average in 2005.

Average offender is a young man tagged for first time over the weekend

A snapshot of the average offender statewide is a male between the ages of 20 to 29, who is tagged on Saturday or Sunday for a first-time offense.

Most of the remainder of those tagged have two or more DWIs on record.

The average alcohol concentration among first-time offenders is 0.157 (the current legal limit of 0.08 became effective Aug. 1, 2005). Second or subsequent violators averaged 0.166.

In all, 462,425 — or one in eight Minnesotans — have a DWI on their records.

Furthermore, the state reported that about 40 percent of those who incur one violation will incur a second DWI; one in 20 Minnesotans with a driving record have two or more DWIs.

What is being done?

Wright County has a long history of extra enforcement and programs due to its higher share of impaired drivers over the years, Hagerty said.

In the 1990s, the Wright County Sheriff’s Department started a “chiefs challenge,” something of a forerunner of Safe and Sober, which challenged law enforcement agencies in Wright County to step up enforcement by offering a nominal monetary prize, Hagerty said.

The modern Safe and Sober program is similar, with money being granted for enforcement, and to a certain degree, equipment purchases.

An example of equipment purchases would be the two radar speed trailers in Wright County that can be seen occasionally on the side of the road, he added.

A different program in place for Wright County is called Operation Night Cap, which is a federal program that is available to the 13 deadliest counties (out of 87) in the state. It is conducted on a monthly basis.

“Unfortunately, we qualify for extra funding,” Hagerty said, pointing out that Wright is fairly high on the deadly list, and has been for the past five years with the exception of one year.

This program provides money to put extra officers on the road, as well as money for equipment, Hagerty said.

Usually, extra officers sweep a particular road; generally during a community festival or event, Hagerty said.

For 2006, the top 13 deadliest counties for impaired drivers were:

1. Hennepin

2. Ramsey

3. Anoka

4. St. Louis

5. Dakota

6. Stearns

7. Washington

8. Wright

9. Crow Wing

10. Blue Earth

11. Scott

12. Itasca

13. Sherburne

“Number eight is not where we want to be,” Hagerty added.

In 2003–2005, more than 50 percent of Minnesota ’s alcohol-related traffic fatalities occurred in just 13 of 87 counties. The 296 deaths and 476 serious injuries cost the state and communities an estimated $356 million, according to the state.

The Howard Lake Police Department is just starting to participate in Operation Night Cap, Hagerty said.

A third program that Wright County has participated with in the past is called the ACE program, which stands for Alcohol Concentrated Enforcement, and also pertains to extra enforcement.

The report “Minnesota Motor Vehicle Impaired Driving Facts 2005,” can be viewed online at www.dps.state.mn.us/ots.

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