Concerns grow over impaired driving ahead of holiday season

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(ABC 6 News) – New data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has many public safety and law enforcement officials worried ahead of the holiday season.

This new study shows that 54% of the people injured or killed in traffic crashes had one or more drugs, or alcohol, in their bloodstreams.

Since the pandemic, experts say drivers have become more reckless, having a deadly effect on Minnesota roads.

“It’s some kind of weird COVID effect, I guess, that brought it on,” said Olmsted County Sheriff Kevin Torgerson. “People were isolated in many ways and then they got out on the highways and there was less traffic, so they went faster and took more risks.”

This year so far, there have been 425 deadly crashes in Minnesota, and 28% of these crashes had alcohol as a contributing factor.

Those numbers are similar in southeast Minnesota, with about 24% of all traffic deaths being alcohol or drug-related.

“During the course of crashes and incidents in Mower County, we are seeing an uptick in controlled substance DUIs and also alcohol-related DUIs and fatalities,” said Mower County Chief Deputy Mark May.

Just over the county line, Freeborn County Sheriff Kurt Freitag says a majority of crashes are due to speeding and that they have not noticed an increase in impaired driving.

State officials agree the deadliest threat on the roads is due to people going too fast.

“This year, although speed continues to be the highest contributing factor, we are seeing our roadway deaths going down compared to last year,” said Kristine Hernandez, the Toward Zero Death program coordinator with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. “But if you look pre-pandemic, we’re still trending higher for death overall.”

Law enforcement officials say with the holidays around the corner, it is more important than ever to drive safe, drive slow, and drive sober.

“One of the things that people can do around the holidays is talking to your family and friends about safe driving habits,” added Hernandez.

“That does go a long way. We need to help change the culture around safe driving”

A national DWI extra enforcement campaign kicked off the first weekend of December and runs through Jan. 1.

Local law enforcement will provide extra patrols to keep impaired drivers off the road this holiday season.