Northland authorities trying to curb increase in drunk drivers

The Duluth Police Department and other Northlanders are working to prevent more and more people from getting behind the wheel when they’ve had one too many.
Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 8:56 PM CDT
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DULUTH, MN. (KBJR) - The Duluth Police Department and other Northlanders are working to prevent more and more people from getting behind the wheel when they’ve had one too many.

“I felt that I was okay to drive,” is a phrase Officer Todd Simmons with DPD said he hears all too often when stopping people for suspected DWIs.

“There was 124 deaths, drunk driving deaths in Minnesota last year, and we’re seeing an uptick in those numbers,” he said.

And that uptick is concerning for Simmons. He looks for some key signs when he suspects a drunk driver.

“Jerking of the wheel, wide turns, varying speeds,” Simmons said.

In his experience, impaired drivers tend to overcorrect and concentrate more on their driving than a sober person would.

“It can be any number of things, like a failure to signal or a stop sign is another big violation,” he said.

Last year, 117 people were caught by Officer Simmons alone, driving behind the wheel under the influence. Simmons said he’s on par to break that number. In 2020, Duluth police made 250 arrests for DUIs.

Across the port in Superior, Tavern League of Wisconsin President Keith Kern is trying to stop people from getting behind the wheel at the bar.

“There’s signs that you watch out for obviously, slurred speech, wobbling when they’re walking, things like that,” he said.

While he said he personally hasn’t seen more impaired people get behind the wheel this year, he knows there’s always a need for programs to stop it from happening.

“Safe Ride Program is a program that was created by the State of Wisconsin Tavern League quite a few years ago,” Kern said.

Since 2004, to be exact. Between 2020 and 2021, the program gave out 42,347 free rides from 2,006 participating establishments.

They give out free rides to patrons who have had too much to drink.

“The bar, if they are participating, we do charge for that voucher and then the Tavern League picks up the rest of the expense,” Kern said.

Back in Duluth, Officer Simmons said it’s best to have a game plan before you even set foot outside the door.

“Our goal is to encourage people to have a plan to get home safely, rather than risking getting into a vehicle and hurting someone or yourself,” he said.

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