Minnesota’s soft approach to drunk drivers criticized

Presuming that most people aren’t big supporters of drunk drivers, one might think being less lenient on DUI offenders (1 in 7 Minnesota drivers has a DUI conviction) would be a slam dunk for state politicians.

So why is it relatively easy for people to still be driving after 9 arrests?

Fox 9 News says the question is percolating — again — after Lawrence LaPole of Rosemount, Minn., was picked up for the 10th time, this time in Wisconsin on Tuesday night.

Minnesota just isn’t very tough on repeat offenders, it says. You’re not a felon until your fourth DWI, for example. In most states, it’s three.

Even if you override the ignition interlock system in your car — LaPole is accused of doing that — it’s only a misdemeanor in Minnesota.

If you even have a system in your car, you’re a habitual drunk driver. It’s required of people with three DWIs over 10 years or four DWIs on a driving record. Install the interlock, pass a DWI knowledge test, and write a $680 check to get a driver’s license back, and you’re back on the road.

“It’s bigger than terrorism in this country,” Jon Cummings, the executive director of Minnesotans for Safe Driving, tells the station.

There were more than 500 arrests for drunk driving over the holiday weekend, a 25 percent increase from a year ago.

  • jon

    Self driving cars can’t get here soon enough.

  • Barton

    I view it as an issue of the American Car Culture. People see driving a car as a right, not a privilege, and thus we do whatever we have to to allow people to drive their vehicles, even to the detriment of other humans.

    There is NO WAY a person should be allowed a driver’s license after their 3rd DWI. None. Zero.

  • John

    Does making the penalties more punitive decrease the number/frequency/severity of drunk driving?

    If it does, then by all means go ahead.

    If it doesn’t, then why bother? It’s just added work for the court system.

    • Will fewer drunks drive if they don’t have driver’s licenses? Some obviously will.

      • John

        That’s pretty much the question, isn’t it? Do other states with more significant penalties have less drunk driving?

        I realize this is a difficult thing to figure out, because driving drunk is something of a cultural issue as well, so the numbers aren’t likely to be fully due to the consequences – local expectations (for lack of a better word this morning) will play a part.

        • wjc

          It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. In states with tougher laws, what is the frequency of people stopped for / convicted of a new DWI offense who also don’t have a license due to previous DWIs? How does that compare with Minnesota?

    • AL287

      This map is cool! Although I’m not sure about the absolute accuracy.

      If you compare numbers between the different Upper Midwestern states, we’re actually not doing so bad.

      Wisconsin and North Dakota both have a higher percentage of all traffic fatalities that are caused by drunk drivers.

      You can stop some of the drunk drivers but no matter how stiff the penalty, people are still going to get behind the wheel of a car because they are too ignorant to know how badly impaired they are or they just don’t give a damn if they kill another driver.

      • I think that’s right; you’re probably never going to stop the worst of the worst. Unless of course you put them in prison.

      • I’m a sucker for maps…


  • lindblomeagles

    I’m probably going to get savaged for saying this but alcohol is a) profitable; and b) a cultural thing. The State of Minnesota, as well as local cities, tavern owners, liquor stores, liquor distributors, and restaurant owners profit greatly from the sale of alcohol. And the best customers, unfortunately, are those who drink excessively. Even sobriety centers have received funding through the sale of alcohol. Combine that with the fact alcohol is culturally consumed after work, at sports’ venues, at weddings, at night clubs, at concerts, at parties, etc. it’s no wonder Minnesota takes it easy on those who drink and drive.

    • MarkUp

      The bartender (or more specifically bar owner) can be held liable for damages caused by an intoxicated patron through the Dram Shop Laws:

      These laws are one reason baseball stadiums don’t serve alcohol after the 7th inning, and give the bar an incentive to cut off intoxicated patrons.

      Other institutions that profit from heavy drinkers would be cab services. There are several companies in the Twin Cities that specifically market themselves as a sober driver service.

      Would the better policy be to punish repeat offenders earlier and harsher, or to enable and encourage alternatives to driving home, like we do with free public transit on New Years Eve?

      • lindblomeagles

        Hey Markup. I took some time thinking about your proposal. I agree with you, enable and encourage alternatives. We’re going to lose the war linking alcohol to drunk driving (or anything else for that matter). The nation prohibited alcohol and met tremendous backlash. Saint Paul was just recently able to sale liquor on Sundays, and that was to stop the flow of money from Minnesota to neighboring Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Winning sometimes means holding off defeat. Yes, it is another government program conservatives won’t like, but taxing alcohol more by penalizing individuals heavier just means we have to pay more patrol officers attorneys, judges, and prison guards to prosecute these individuals. That sounds way more expensive than subsidizing cabs who wait around bars to take people too drunk home. Good call.

  • Barry Edwards

    Just as many (the numbers vary a little by year) die by speeding driving as “drunk driving.” But there’s no outrage about that, no special, shaming license plates for repeat speeders, no angry letters (https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/ots/reports-statistics/Documents/2015-crash-facts.pdf). The “DWI Industrial Complex” is not about safety.

  • KTFoley

    I wonder how often people get the ignition interlock without also getting whiskey plates? Whiskey plates are given for larger range of offenses than what’s listed here for the ignition interlock, and have to be on for a year.

    I’m also surprised to learn of a B-Card in MN, which does require sobriety.