Who are Minnesota’s drunk drivers?

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety today released its annual report on drunk driving in the state, saying although the number of people killed in accidents involving drunks increased in 2015 (nearly 100 died), it’s still less than a decade ago, signaling that perhaps public attitudes toward drinking and driving are changing.

That’s a pretty challenging goal in a state where one of every nine residents has a drunk driving incident on her/his record. Considering that many Minnesota residents are too young to drive, the number of drivers with a DWI remains incredible: 1 in 7.

There are some interesting factoids in the report, including the difficulty prosecutors have getting a conviction in some counties.

For example, in Kanabec County only 54 percents of arrests result in a conviction. The numbers are nearly as low in Pipestone and Murray Counties (47 percent). Is it a rural thing? The evidence doesn’t suggest so. Cook (96 percent), Wilkin (93 percent) and Watonwan (90 percent) are all rural counties with high conviction rates.

In Wisconsin, incidentally, 93 percent of the citations for drunk driving result in a conviction if the case makes it to court.

Other conclusions:

  • Drunk driving accidents are mostly a guy thing. Seventy-two percent of drunk driving accidents are caused by men. More than half are caused by men 20-24 years old.
  • Forty percent of the impaired drivers in the state are at least two-timers. Of those who are picked up for DWI a second time, about half go on to get a third.
  • August is the biggest month for drunk driving arrests. December is the lowest.
  • While 1 in 9 residents statewide has a DWI conviction, the numbers are much higher in some counties. It’s 1 in 4 in Mahnomen, 1 in 6 in Mille Lacs, and 1 in 6 in Cass. By contrast, it’s 1 in 12 in Stevens County.
  • Wisconsin doesn’t make the percentage of drivers with DWIs quite so readily known. But, using data from several sources, it appears that of the 4.1 million people with drivers licenses, 14% — also one in 7 — has a DWI. So, at least in this category, Minnesotans and Wisconsinites are joined at the lip.
  • 1,328 drivers have 10 or more DWIs on their record. There is one person out there — somewhere — who has 26.

Here’s the full report.

Related: How lucky we are: How people died 100+ years ago, and how we die today (Salon)

  • andrew

    I’ve always wondered about that statistic. Do they account for the multiple DUI’s people get or when someone has 3 convictions is that getting spread out to and skewing the data?

    • Joe

      I wondered the same thing, read the report, and they do account for that.

      I also read the report before I got to Bob’s fun facts, and observed the same highlights. That one dude with 26 on his record!!

  • joetron2030


  • Anna

    If a person has an alcohol/ illegal drug problem, no amount of arrests, jail time, rehab or other interventions like suspending their license or even revoking it is going to prevent them from driving while under the influence.

    Driving under the influence is a personal choice and an extremely selfish one. Drugs and/or alcohol reduce inhibition and impair judgment and so they continue to do it. The only way to stop a habitually impaired driver is for family, friends and their favorite watering hole to not give them the keys to the car.

    Why is the guy with 26 convictions still allowed access to a moving vehicle? Because persons close to him are not brave enough to say “No.”

    • There’s an interesting section there on the ignition interlock.

      We can’t conclude anything about the character or bravery of the loved one of the person with 26 DWIs with any accuracy. We don’t even know if there are loved ones nearby.

      • Anna

        The guy with 26 convictions got access to a moving vehicle somehow. Notice I did not say loved ones. A stranger in a bar could step up to the plate and offer to take him home. The liquor stores he frequents could refuse to sell him liquor.

        I think the ignition lock device should be implemented after the first offense. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

        There also seems to be four different categories of drunk driving in Minnesota. I know this because the jerk-of-a-doctor, 1st year surgery resident that assisted with my surgery a year ago at Mayo Clinic got a 4th degree arrest for drunk driving less than a month before. It must depend on how far over the limit you are and/or prior arrests.

        It seems the only thing that gets a habitually impaired driver off the road is if they kill someone.

        Studies have proven that no amount of alcohol is safe if you’re intending to drive. Even at .05, reaction time and judgment are impaired.

        • I’m attempting to find more information about Mr./Ms. 26.

          • Al Iverson

            My father, who passed away recently, probably had more than a dozen DUI convictions. It felt like drunk driving was such a part of the culture. Just crazy.

        • wjc

          Could you cite the studies about no amount of alcohol being safe?

          • Anna

            Alcohol and other drugs reduce the important skills you need to drive safely.

            Judgment – Judgment is a brain-centered activity that stores all of your experiences and knowledge so it can be used quickly when you face a new problem. Alcohol and other impairing drugs affect those areas of your brain that controls judgment. This is one reason why drinking alcohol and taking certain types of drugs is so dangerous.

            Vision – The most important sense you use in driving is vision. Alcohol and certain types of drugs can blur your vision, slow your ability to focus and cause double vision. Your vision helps you to determine how far away an object is and the object’s relationship to your path of travel. Alcohol
            and other impairing drugs reduce the ability to judge distance, speed and the movement of other vehicles. With increasing impairment, you could drift across the centerline, wander from lane to lane, or even run off the roadway. Vision is affected for all drivers at a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) as low as .02 g/dl.

            Color Distinction – A lot of the information you receive on the roadway is from different colors such as traffic signs, signals and roadway markings. Alcohol and other impairing drugs reduce your ability to distinguish colors, which can be very dangerous.

            Reaction Time – Alcohol and other impairing drugs slows your ability to process information and respond to critical driving tasks. Alcohol and impairing drugs makes you drowsy and less alert to what is around you.

            Even one drink of alcohol can affect a person’s ability to
            operate a motor vehicle. With one or more drinks in the bloodstream a person could be arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.

            Source: http://www.safedriving.gov

            If you are consuming food when drinking it only delays the absorption of the alcohol. Only time can improve blood alcohol level and level of impairment.

            Don’t drink and drive, wjc. Period.

      • Gary F

        That is, if the drunk actually uses a car equipped with one. Laws don’t prevent outlaws from breaking the law.

        • Anna

          Which is exactly my point above.

  • Ben

    This guy is one of them: http://www.fox9.com/news/198279959-story

    This Christopher Ingraham quote (relating to his move to Red Lake Falls) has really stuck with me, “…my relocation to Red Lake Falls has been a humbling reminder of the limitations of numbers. It has opened my eyes to all of the things that get lost when you abstract people, places and points in time down to a single number on a computer screen.”

  • Gary F
  • Angry Jonny

    This is purely an anecdotal observation, but I think there’s a distinction to be made between some instances of drinking and driving. There’s the type of DDing that happens when somebody has clearly had too much and drives, endangering someone else on the road. Then there’s the backroads beer drinker who drives on some dirt road in the middle of nowhere (my hometown comes to mind) from farm/shop/point A to farm/shop/point B with a roadie beer. I’m not condoning or endorsing either behavior, just making an observation. DD enforcement up north, years ago, sort of reminds me of this..


  • Mike Worcester

    I’m trying to read through the report on my lunch half-hour but I’m compelled to wonder if there is a correlation between median-income levels and rates of DUI arrests. Do those counties which have high per-capita numbers (also an interesting view) also fall near the lower end of the income scale for the state as a whole.

  • MNsnowbird

    How many licensed drivers over the age of 21 with a DWI? How many under 21? How many non-licensed individuals with a DWI or multiple DWIs?

    • The report refers only to licensed drivers. There were about 1274 DWI’s among those under 21 (page 6 at link above). Presently, there are 318,000 licensed drivers under 21 (page 20 at link above).

      The number of DWI’s among <21 has been coming down over the years at a very impressive rate.