Over the course of Memorial Day weekend, Driving While Impaired (DWI) arrests are likely to increase, particularly as COVID-19 restrictions continue to loosen. More people are eager to celebrate the holidays with friends and family after a year of pandemic-related restrictions, which is likely to lead to an increase in incidents involving driving while intoxicated.
A Year After an Especially Dangerous Weekend
Throughout Memorial Day weekend in 2020, Minnesota experienced the highest number of deaths during the holiday in a decade, according to the Department of Public Safety. Last year, the state saw eight fatalities resulting from six different crashes over Memorial Day weekend, which was the most since 2010, which saw nine motorist fatalities over the same weekend.
One of the fatalities in 2020 involved alcohol consumption and experts are anticipating another surge in DWI arrests and alcohol-related incidents during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend.
Memorial Day has a history of being one of the deadliest holidays, ranking as one of the 100 deadliest days just below the 4th of July. Subsequently, DWI arrests are commonplace during this time of the year, as many people seek to celebrate not only the holiday but also the warming weather and the onset of summer.
Dangers Involving Boating and BWI
Boating is a particularly popular activity among many residents and visitors in Minnesota over Memorial Day weekend. The weather is beginning to warm up and people are eager to get out on the water. However, social distancing rules still apply at Minnesota lakes such as Lake Minnetonka.
Many of the state’s fatal accidents on the water are alcohol-related, involving intoxicated boaters. To prevent this issue, the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) often issues a statement ahead of the weekend to remind people to practice caution, whether boating or engaging in other potentially dangerous activities. Additionally, DNR officers are often patrolling the waters throughout Memorial Day weekend to identify intoxicated boaters and get them off of the water. Over the years, both the DNR and Minnesota authorities have worked together to improve drunken boating enforcement, and 2021 won’t be an exception.
Some of the specific efforts that DNR officers practice include increasing the number of patrols in proximity to waterways and boat launches, checking for any suspicious behavior, and getting intoxicated boaters off the water before they can cause harm to themselves and others.
Additionally, DNR officers and authorities conduct field sobriety tests on lakes and rivers. In these cases, individuals stopped for suspected Boating While Impaired (BWI) will be asked to perform various tasks such as touching their noses with their fingers and counting backward.
Defining DWI and BWI
Some individuals may be curious to know what the differences are between a DWI and a BWI. It’s important to note that the circumstances are different, which can help determine how to approach driving and boating over the holidays.
The key difference between a DWI and BWI is a policy around open containers of alcohol and the operation of a vehicle. Regardless of whether a person is actively drinking and driving, they risk a DWI arrest if there are any open alcohol containers within the vehicle and if they are intoxicated. If a person is caught with a drink in hand while driving, this warrants a DWI arrest. Even if the vehicle isn’t running and the driver is merely next to the vehicle, officers can arrest the individual for a DWI.
On the other hand, it’s legal to have an open alcohol container on a boat. Boat operators can also drink while driving a boat, provided their blood alcohol content (BAC) falls within legal limits and the driver isn’t visibly intoxicated. However, if the driver exhibits reckless behavior and is found to have a BAC of .08 or higher, these are grounds for a BWI arrest.
The Importance of Safe Boating and Driving Practices
Regardless of whether individuals plan on boating or driving anywhere over Memorial Day weekend, boaters and drivers need to practice safe and sober driving. If they intend on getting intoxicated to any degree, it’s possible to either assign a sober designated driver or use ride-sharing services including Uber and Lyft as needed. It may also be possible to wait until the intoxication has passed to operate a vehicle, often by staying overnight in a safe location while the vehicle is parked elsewhere.
To stay safe, it’s best to plan ahead and determine the safest means of transportation beforehand, which can help prevent any intoxicated boating or driving. Subsequently, individuals can avoid unexpected DWI and BWI arrests and enjoy a safe holiday.
While the state encourages people to be safe and sober over the Memorial Day weekends, authorities are preparing to mitigate the risks of intoxicated driving and boating.