BEMIDJI -- Although New Year's Eve still may be one of the larger party days of the year, it has started to recover from its status as a leading producer of intoxicated drivers -- at least in Minnesota.
The decrease in the number of DWIs issued on New Year's has been decades in the making, according to the Minnesota State Patrol. The decrease has been so drastic, in fact, that law enforcement officials encounter fewer DWIs per hour on New Year's Eve than nearly any other major holiday.
"For the last 30 or 40 years, we've really placed a lot of emphasis on our enforcement efforts during New Year's Eve," said Mike Hanson, director of the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety. "As a result of that, New Year's Eve is now, I think, very comparable to what we see on a typical Friday or Saturday night in Minnesota."
From 2013-17, the Department of Public Safety recorded 3.3 DWI arrests per hour on New Year's Day. By comparison, the holiday with the most DWI arrests was Halloween with 4 per hour. That was followed by the Fourth of July with 3.9 arrests per hour. The annual average is 2.9 DWI arrests per hour.
Although there were not statistics readily available from the Minnesota State Patrol for New Year's in Beltrami County specifically, there were 443 DWIs reported in Beltrami County overall in 2018. That was up from the 384 DWIs reported in 2017, but down from the 534 DWIs reported a decade earlier in 2008.
Hanson attributes the decrease to both enforcement practices as well as education.
However, both Hanson and Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin indicated that although the overall number of DWIs may be decreasing, there has been an increase in the number of drug-related DUIs.
Even though New Year's Eve has improved regarding the number of intoxicated drivers on the road, it is still included in a wave of extra enforcement that aims to reduce the number of DWIs. Hanson said that wave of enforcement stretches from Thanksgiving to New Year's.
The Bemidji Police Department receives approximately $25,000 a year as part of the extra enforcement campaign, which puts additional officers on the road to look for intoxicated drivers. That funding is spread out over multiple enforcement waves, Mastin said.
Mastin said that even though the number of DWI arrests for New Year's may be lower than they once were, the streets still benefit from having the extra enforcement.
"I think the officers are still acting as a deterrent," Mastin said. "That set of flashing lights might be the determining factor to convince somebody that they better get a ride for the night."