Facts, history about drunk driving in Minnesota


From: Sgt. Troy Christianson
Minnesota State Patrol

Question: How long has there been a drunk driving law in Minnesota?

Answer: The Minnesota Legislature criminalized DWI in 1911, making “driving while in an intoxicated manner” a misdemeanor. The laws and sanctions addressing DWI have evolved in the past 104 years.

• Evidence of influence was set at .15 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in 1917.
• The first civil sanctions for DWI (implied consent) began in 1961.
• A per se level of .10 BAC was attached to administrative license sanctions in 1971. Minnesota was the first state to take such action.
• The concept of BAC changed to alcohol concentration (AC) in 1978.
• License plate impoundment began in 1988.
• Test refusal becomes a criminal offense in 1989.
• Child endangerment enhancement and “Not a Drop” law enacted in 1993.
• High AC (.20 and above) added as an enhancement in 1997.
• Felony-level penalties established in 2001.
• Per se level lowered to .08 AC in 2004.
• Ignition interlock added in 2010.
• A gross misdemeanor DWI driving offense was lowered to an alcohol concentration of .16 from a .20 in 2015 for first-time offenders.

Minnesota’s enhanced DWI enforcement and education efforts are contributing to the reduction of alcohol-related deaths. Drunk driving-related fatalities have decreased by 25 percent in the past five years (2010-2014), yet with 88 deaths caused by drunk drivers in 2014, there is much more work to be done.

We are encouraged by the continued drop in DWIs, but the 25,258 motorists arrested for DWI last year is unacceptable. Currently, more than 600,000 Minnesota residents have a DWI on record — that’s one out of every seven licensed drivers in Minnesota.

The average blood alcohol concentration (BAC) for drivers with a DWI was .15, with the average BAC for a drunk driver involved in a fatal crash being .19.

The legal limit for driving impaired in Minnesota is 0.08 — but motorists can be arrested for DWI at lower levels. A typical penalty for a first-time offender is loss of license for a minimum of 30 days up to a year and possible jail time, although the consequences will vary for each offender. DWI costs can be as high as $20,000 when factoring court costs, legal fees and increased insurance premiums.

You can avoid a ticket — and a crash — if you simply buckle up, drive at safe speeds, pay attention and always drive sober. Help us drive Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths.

If you have any questions concerning traffic related laws or issues in Minnesota send your questions to Sgt. Troy Christianson, Minnesota State Patrol, 2900 48th Street NW, Rochester, Minn., 55901-5848. Or reach him at Troy.Christianson@state.mn.us.


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