Drunken driving-related deaths have decreased substantially in Minnesota over the past two decades.

Although the state’s downward trend is slowing, we still see that as heartening progress since the high-water times of 1998, even if the trend’s current flat line is prompting concern.

The Duluth News Tribune last week outlined DUI trends statewide, noting how there were 206 DUI-related deaths in 1998. That number rose and fell over the ensuing eight years, but since 2008, it has generally followed a downward path. In 2017, for example, there were 72 deaths associated from impaired driving.

The decline has been associated with a culture shift – media campaigns, tougher law enforcement, early education and technology.

Minnesota has been an example for decreasing impaired driving. A report in 2018 from the National Traffic Safety Administration showed Minnesota is among the best in the nation in per-capita DUI fatalities, joining Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

North Dakota, however, ranks near the bottom. North Dakota had 6.08 impaired driving deaths per 100,000 people in 2017; Minnesota, meanwhile, had 1.52 per 100,000.

Minnesota is the third best state in these rankings; North Dakota is the third worst.

It’s interesting that two states, side by side, can have such drastically different statistics. It has to be more than just culture, which so often is used to explain away poor rankings for self-control lapses such as impaired driving, speeding or not wearing seat belts.

One answer: North Dakota has lagged other states – including Minnesota – with its laws and penalties associated with drunk driving. For example, 37 states require assessment and/or treatment after a DUI conviction. Minnesota does; North Dakota does not.

During the most recent session of the state Legislature, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would have outlawed DUI checkpoints throughout the state. Imagine: A state that ranks No. 3 in the nation for most impaired driving deaths per capita strongly considered outlawing a tool that can keep impaired drivers off the roads.

It passed the House 79-14, but luckily, the Senate was more level-headed and killed the bill, 36-10.

As Minnesota laments its flat-lined DUI trend in recent years, we still see that state’s success as a reason to celebrate. Certainly, more work remains, but to go from 206 DUI-related deaths in 1998 to 72 deaths in 2017 is nothing short of spectacular.

North Dakota, meanwhile, continues to plod along at the bottom of various national DUI rankings.

Nothing much has changed in North Dakota, and nothing will, until more teeth are added to the state’s laws. Instead of working to reduce efforts, such as the proposal to outlaw DUI checkpoints, North Dakota should be working to stiffen laws. That means higher fines, more automatic jail time, and use of interlock devices – the gadgets that require drivers to blow into them and prove they are sober before the car will start.

Those are ways to improve North Dakota’s sad relationship with drunken driving and the so many needless deaths that occur because of it.