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It's no blarney: St. Patrick's Day means extra drunken driving patrols

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ST. PAUL -- Before you chug that first green beer, swallow this: extra DWI patrols will be on the roads on St. Patrick's Day to prevent alcohol-related crashes.

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Law enforcement agencies statewide will increase enforcement on a historically dangerous drinking and driving party period, and Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety officials are especially concerned as the holiday falls on a Saturday. The last time that occurred, in 2007, 527 motorists were arrested for DWI and all three traffic deaths were alcohol-related. In a typical weekend in Minnesota, 170 motorists are arrested for DWI.

"St. Patrick's is an all-day drinking event for many, which means roads are risky all day," says Lt. Eric Roeske of the Minnesota State Patrol. "There is no excuse for driving impaired as there are many options to avoid drinking and driving. Drinking drivers need to plan ahead for a sober ride."

St. Patrick's Day ranks second, behind the Fourth of July holiday for alcohol-related traffic deaths between 2006 and 2010. Thirteen of the total of 23 July 4 holidays and seven of 16 on St. Patrick's Day involved alcohol.

While alcohol-related deaths factored in nearly half of St. Patrick's Day deaths during this five-year period, the holiday has been safer in recent years when the holiday fell on a weekday -- seven deaths and only one alcohol-related during 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Officials say this drop could be attributed to the holiday falling on weekdays, but it also may be connected to the recent trend of fewer alcohol-related deaths and DWIs in Minnesota. In 2010, there were 131 alcohol-related deaths in Minnesota, the lowest on record. Still, these crashes account for one-third of the state's total annual deaths.

The enforcement effort is supported by an advertising campaign using TV (the holiday-specific spot, "O'Busted"), online and billboards. On social media, DPS (@MnDPS_OTS) will be using the hashtag #DesignateODriver.

To-date in 2012, there have been 63 traffic deaths, up 54 percent from the 41 deaths at this time 2011.

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