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Area law prepping for safe, sober patrols through December

WILLMAR -- Area law enforcement agencies, along with 400 agencies from across the state, will begin additional patrols this week targeting impaired drivers.

The police departments from Willmar, Benson and Atwater and the Kandiyohi and Swift County sheriff's offices are participating in the effort, which will be coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Office of Traffic Safety under the Toward Zero Deaths safety platform.

During each of the past five Decembers, impaired driving crashes have resulted in an average of 14.2 deaths and 272 injuries on Minnesota's roads. The time from Thanksgiving through New Year's typically matches the high serious-crash rate during mid-summer months, with the addition of weather-related, less serious crashes.

"Avoiding an alcohol-related crash or a DWI arrest is simple," says Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog. "Have a plan for a safe and sober ride every time you drink. There's no excuse for impaired driving and putting lives at risk on our roads."

Added Willmar Chief of Police Jim Kulset, "Holidays or not, our personnel are expected to arrest drivers who are under the influence. It's your responsibility to be sure you aren't putting lives at risk: if you drink, don't drive."

The extra December enforcement will also focus on seat belt use. Recent surveys in Kandiyohi and Swift Counties show that one in five drivers isn't buckled up during the daytime. The seat belt use rate drops after dark, and 3/4 of impaired drivers who die in crashes are not restrained. Minnesota's 2009 seat belt law requires proper seat belt use by everyone in the vehicle, and allows officers to stop drivers for observed non-use. Any unbuckled driver or passenger over age 14 receives a separate ticket. The driver receives a separate citation for each child under 8 who is not in a proper child restraint and for children 8 to 14 who are not properly seat belted.

December is also the most popular month for young people to have their first drink. Keep in mind that providing alcohol to persons under the age of 21 carries serious consequences. Never give the gift of alcohol to your younger brother, niece or nephew, an underage friend, your kids' friends. Don't provide space for underage people to have a party where drinking happens. If you do, the consequences can be life-changing -- jail or prison time, ambulance calls, funerals and lots of regrets.

Every driver this year can give the gift of a safe lift. Go to and send an e-card offering a sober ride to a friend.