Drunken driving deaths drop in ’04

by Elizabeth Cook

In 2004 the state saw an increase in driving while intoxicated citations but the number of people who died in alcohol-related crashes decreased, according to a Minnesota Department of Public Safety statement released Tuesday.

Nathan Bowie, a spokesman for the department, said the decrease in deaths was caused by more public awareness, more police enforcement and the lowering of the illegal blood alcohol concentration threshold from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent in August 2005.

Along with fewer deaths, these factors led to more citations.

Minnesota had 177 alcohol-related traffic deaths, down from 255 deaths in 2003.

But there were 34,202 DWIs in 2004, up nearly 2,000 from 2003.

University police Lt. Charles Miner said the University police gave presentations upon request to residence halls, fraternities and sororities, in which they discussed drinking and driving. For example, police have people try on glasses which simulate the vision of an intoxicated person, he said.

According to the Department of Public Safety, nearly half of all alcohol-related traffic deaths in 2004 were people younger than 22.

Bowie said this is because younger drivers aren’t accustomed to drinking as much. They are more likely to take more risks and they don’t have as much experience as an older driver.

First-year psychology major Louisa Zelm said she doesn’t drink and drive and doesn’t get in the car with drunken drivers.

“It’s kinda something my mom taught me,” Zelm said.

The number of deaths is also greater outside the metro area, Bowie said. For 2004, out of the 177 deaths, 121 occurred outside the Twin Cities.

This follows a trend. In 2003, 184 of 255 deaths occurred outside the Twin Cities.

Bowie said there are always more outside the Cities because the road conditions are different from the metro area.

There is less visibility and not as much shoulder room, Bowie said. Two-lane roads are also a problem; people cross over the line and get into a head-on collision.

Even though the rate of alcohol-related traffic deaths has decreased, Boynton Health Service reported the incidence of drinking has increased at the University.

According to statistics compiled through Boynton Health Service, the percentage of high-risk drinkers, meaning those who drink five or more drinks in one sitting, has increased from 2004 to 2005, said Dave Golden, the director of public health and marketing for Boynton.

Dr. Katherine Lust, associate program director for Boynton, said that in 2005 there was a core survey done with 16 schools, including the University.

In that survey, 6,000 University of Minnesota undergraduate students, aged 18 to 24, were asked whether they were high-risk drinkers. Nearly half said they were, and of those, 26.5 percent said they had driven at least once while under the influence.

Of the remaining students, who weren’t considered high-risk drivers, 11.4 percent said they drove at least once while intoxicated.

Lust said the reason more high-risk drinkers also drive is that “someone who is willing to engage in one risky behavior is more than likely to engage in another risky behavior.”

Junior Derek Hansell said he has driven after drinking.

Hansell said he wasn’t drunk; he had only had a few drinks.

But Hansell said he does worry about drunken drivers on the road, especially on Friday and Saturday nights.

While 2005 figures are still preliminary, Miner said the University Police Department issued fewer DWI citations in 2005 than in 2004.

In 2004, there were 175 and through November 2005 there were 152 for the year.