North Dakota has the second highest rate of drunken driving arrests in the U.S. and is one of only three states to see an increase in those numbers in the past decade, according to a study released this week by the U.S. Drug Test Centers.
Using FBI crime data, the study found that in 2018, North Dakota's rate of drunken driving arrests was 678.4 per 100,000 people, a 6.3% increase since 2009. The national average was 330 per 100,000.
North Dakota has been in the study's top 10 since 2010 and had a three-year streak at the top spot from 2012 until 2015, when it was overtaken by South Dakota. The Dakotas have held the first and second positions since then. Minnesota has 362.3 DUI arrests per 100,000 residents, which ranks it 21st nationally.
READ THE STUDY
North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Wade Kadrmas said North Dakota has long had a culture of binge drinking, although it's difficult to say why.
"We're not saying it's wrong to consume alcohol," Kadrmas said. "Just making the choices to designate a sober driver prior to going out and having a good time is what we need to start changing."
According to the North Dakota Office of Attorney General, approximately 16% of adult arrests in North Dakota in 2018 were for drunken driving. Among those offenders, the average blood alcohol content was .159 – nearly twice the legal limit of .08.
Alcohol is a factor in about 43% of fatal crashes in North Dakota annually, the state attorney general also reports.
One contributing factor to the high rate of drunken driving arrests could be the state's rural geography, Kadrmas said. Outside of urban areas, it's much more difficult to call a cab or use a rideshare service, leaving revelers with fewer options to get home safely.
Within the city of Grand Forks – where Ubers and Lyfts are easier to come by, Kadrmas pointed out – drunken driving arrests have dropped in the last decade, bucking the statewide trend highlighted in the study. The Grand Forks Police Department reports an 8.4% overall decrease in drunken driving arrests, from 263 arrests in 2009 to 141 in 2018.
And Kadrmas said he's optimistic statewide efforts to curb drunken driving are paying off, and the number of DUI arrests made by highway patrol in 2019 is lower than it was at this time in 2018.
"So depending on how things go the next two weeks, you know, we could actually end up less than we were last year," he said.
Despite being one of three states to see an overall increase in DUI arrests since 2009, North Dakota has seen a 27.6% decrease in DUI arrests since 2014. During the same time frame, North Dakota has seen a 9% decrease in alcohol-related fatal crashes, according to the state attorney general.
"I would hope to say it's because of (the North Dakota Department of Transportation's) and all other law enforcement's efforts into taking impaired drivers off the road, but also it can be individuals out there just making the smarter choice to not drive," Kadrmas said.
The 10 states with the highest DUI rates are South Dakota, with a DUI rate of 721.9 per 100,000, followed by North Dakota, Wyoming, North Carolina, Mississippi, New Mexico, Maine, Washington, Alaska and Wisconsin. The 10 states with the lowest DUI rates are Missouri, Arkansas, Connecticut, Alabama, Ohio, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and Delaware, which has a countrywide low DUI rate of 44.3 per 100,000.