Ask a Trooper: Controlled-substance DWIs have increased in Minnesota

Questions concerning traffic-related laws or issues in Minnesota may be sent to Minnesota State Patrol Sgt. Jesse Grabow at 1000 Highway 10 W., Detroit Lakes, MN 56560. You can follow him on Twitter @MSPPIO_NW or email him at


Question: I read somewhere that the number of arrests for driving while impaired had declined recently? Is this true? What about non-alcohol-related DWI arrests?

Answer: While alcohol-related DWI incidents have dropped over the past 10 years in Minnesota, controlled substance-related DWI incidents have increased over the past 30 years.

Controlled substance convictions:

  • 1990: 5 controlled substance-related DWIs
  • 1997: 128
  • 2007: 659
  • 2017: 1,982

We believe that most drivers know when to get a sober ride when they had consumed too many alcoholic beverages. Illicit and some prescription drugs can affect our ability to safely operate a vehicle, even if taken as directed. The term “controlled substances” refers to both of these categories, and part of the rise of drug-related DWIs is due to their increased use.
Another factor for the increase in controlled substance arrests is that law enforcement officers are better trained in DWI detection, especially with non-alcohol related DWI offenders.

Minnesota currently has 277 specially trained officers called drug recognition evaluators. Non-certified officers can and do call for the assistance from a drug recognition evaluator to assist with a DWI, if needed.


Tips for motorists that are currently taking prescription medications:

  • If you don’t yet know how a medication will affect your judgment, coordination and reaction time, either have someone else drive or wait to take it until after you get home.
  • Check the warning labels carefully. Does it have one about “operating heavy machinery?” That includes motor vehicles.
  • Some medications are fine on their own, but can impair you when mixed with other medications or alcohol — even a small amount. Learn about the interactions and talk to your doctor or pharmacist.

Please take the proper precautions, and remember: If you feel different, you drive different.

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