Recreational DWI laws stiffened as of Jan. 1, 1998

Minnesota's driving while intoxicated (DWI) laws have become stiffer, not only for drivers of cars and trucks, but also for operators of motorboats, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).

Effective Jan. 1, 1998, all recreational DWI violations have been moved into the motor vehicle statutes. This means that those persons who operate a snowmobile, motorboat or ATV while under the influence are now subject to the same penalties as those who drive on roads.

Those penalties include the possible loss of driver's license, all car or truck license plates, and/or loss of the vehicle being operated at the time of the violation.

Studies of recreational DWI arrests have shown that a significant number of violators arrested on motorboats and snowmobiles have a prior DWI on a highway, according to Major Mike Grupa of the Department of Natural Resources Enforcement Division. In the winter of 1996-97, 63 percent of the 32 snowmobile fatalities were alcohol-related. In 1996 (in spite of a record low number of boating fatalities - 12), 58 percent of the boating deaths involved alcohol.

"Realizing this, the 1997 Minnesota Legislature, with input from a number of law enforcement and safety groups, passed this omnibus DWI bill that addresses the behavior rather than the specific vehicle that is operated at the time of the offense," Grupa sad.

Here is a summary of the new laws effective Jan. 1, 1998:

The DNR is cooperating with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) to inform the public about the dangers of mixing alcohol and operation of any vehicle, whether it is on the road, trail, ice or water.

"The DNR's entry into the DPS statewide Safe and Sober campaign in 1998 will focus on the new forfeiture laws for repeat offenders," according to Kim Elverum, DNR Boat and Water Safety coordinator. The theme "Don't Lose the Ones You Love" is the focal point of the campaign. "It not only refers to the loved ones you leave behind in an accident, but also the vehicle or motorboat you could loose on a third offense," Elverum noted. The campaign, includes TV and radio public service announcements, newspaper ads, billboards and other media messages.

DNR conservation officers and county sheriff's deputies recently completed a training session to bring them up to date on the new recreational DWI laws. DNR's Enforcement Division will continue to field its Snowmobile Task Force during this winter, and will continue its cooperative efforts with county sheriff's departments in snowmobile enforcement. To assist these local efforts, the 1997 Legislature appropriated $400,000 in yearly snowmobile enforcement grants to county sheriffs and police departments to hep defray the costs of local snowmobile enforcement.

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