by Wright County District Court Judge Steve Halsey
If you are reading this, you probably live in a small town or rural area of the Tenth Judicial District, i.e., the counties of Anoka, Chisago, Isanti, Kanabec, Pine, Sherburne, Washington, and Wright. In Minnesota each year nearly 30,000 (yes, that is thirty thousand) drivers are arrested for drunk driving, many on rural roads. One could reasonably conclude that drunk driving is vastly more prevalent in highly-populated urban areas, but statistics do not bear that out, at least on a national basis. Here are a few frightening statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
• Rural areas account for 80 percent of the total U.S. road mileage and 40 percent of the vehicle-miles traveled.
• In 2010, 19 percent of U.S. population lived in rural areas.
• Rural travel reflects the rural environment of long distances, relatively low traffic volumes, relatively rare traffic congestion, travelers unfamiliar with the surroundings, and rugged terrain in remote areas. (Also riskier road conditions: poor lighting, narrower roads.)
• In 2010, the fatality rate per miles driven was 2.5 times higher in rural areas than in urban areas. (MNDOT states 70 percent of Minnesota traffic fatalities occur in rural areas.)
• In 2010, 10,228 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes and rural areas accounted for 55 percent of these fatalities.
We see many drunk-driving cases in criminal court where the driver was drinking at a rural bar, thought they were not intoxicated, and concluded they could drive the few miles home without endangering themselves or others, as well as avoid detection by law enforcement. Bad choices can turn tragic. Call a sober ride. Be safe.