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Statistics show one in 10 residents has drunken driving on record

WILLMAR -- Impaired driving statistics recently released by the state Department of Public Safety show that one in 10 Kandiyohi County residents has an incident of driving while impaired on their record.

The state statistics show 10.8 percent of Kandiyohi County's population has a DWI. The state average is 10.5 percent. Renville County shows a 12.8 percent rate, with 12 percent in Yellow Medicine County, 11.8 percent in Swift County, 11 percent in Chippewa and 10.8 in Meeker County.

The statistics from the Department of Public Safety count the DWI incidents against the 2010 population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, which includes the entire population, not just people who can drive a vehicle.

The ratio gets even smaller, says Officer Marilee Dorn of the Willmar Police Department, when narrowed to people with a driving record. In Minnesota, one in seven people has an incident of driving while impaired on their record.

In the past four years, Dorn has tracked DWI arrests by both the Willmar Police Department and Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office and annually finds drunken driving arrests in every hour of the day. While the arrests aren't every hour of every day of the week, the data show at least one person is arrested during every clock hour of each of the seven days of the week.

There is also a small, but alarming, trend of daytime impaired driving arrests stemming from drug use or the combination of drug and alcohol use.

"A number of our daytime arrests appear to be drug-related," Dorn says. The trend of growing abuse of prescription medications, including anti-anxiety medications, sedatives and sleep-aid pills, is showing up in drunken driving arrests.

In 2010, law officers in Kandiyohi County arrested 215 people for driving while impaired. Area arrests include 136 in Renville County, 119 in Yellow Medicine, 94 in Meeker, 76 in Chippewa and 37 in Swift County.

Alcohol was a factor in three of the 13 traffic fatalities recorded in 2010 in the six-county region. Four people were killed in Meeker County, three each in Swift and Renville, two perished in Chippewa and one person died in 2010 in Kandiyohi County. Of those 13 deaths, one of the Chippewa fatalities and two of the Meeker County deaths were attributed to alcohol.

A total of 458 injury crashes were recorded in the six counties, with 35 crashes, or 7.6 percent, listed as alcohol-related. There were 219 total crashes (8 alcohol-related) in Kandiyohi, 72 (9) in Meeker, 63 (6) in Renville, 49 (5) in Chippewa, 34 (4) in Yellow Medicine and 21 (3) in Swift County.

A total of 411 people died on Minnesota's roads last year, including 127 on urban highways and 284 on rural roads.

The rural/urban fatality number can be misleading. Law enforcement officials are using data, including some from insurance companies, to determine that the numbers would be inverted if the data measured fatal crashes within five miles of cities and towns, Dorn says.

Those data are driving where the area law enforcement agencies conduct their Safe and Sober patrols, she says. The extra patrols take into account where people live and recreate, such as areas with growing housing developments, and especially in the warm season, where there are clusters of lake cabins and people using the county parks.

"Our Safe and Sober patrols do look at population concentration," she said.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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