The number of driving while intoxicated (DWI) arrests in Otter Tail County is up slightly from 2018 with four weeks of the year remaining.

Sheriff’s office figures released Dec. 4 indicate that over the last year 138 DWI arrests have been made in Otter Tail. The total number of DWI arrests in 2018 was 131.

Yet the problem could more accurately be described as driving under the influence (DUI) because intoxication is not the only catalyst for criminal vehicular conduct which Otter Tail County Sheriff Barry Fitzgibbons and his deputies are seeing in the 2,225 square miles which they patrol. 

With its many lakes and other recreational diversions, Otter Tail County is a magnet for tourists. The nearly 59,000 residents of the huge county are joined by up to a quarter-million visitors on some summer weekends.

The sheriff’s office continues to see a culture where drinking and driving is accepted,” Fitzgibbons noted. “Along with enforcement, we strive to educate the public on the dangers of driving under the influence. Controlled substance DWIs continue to be on the rise. More and more are choosing to drive while under the influence of a controlled substance.”

Earlier this year Otter Tail County was picked out as one of Minnesota’s top 13 drunk driving counties. The Minnesota Department of Traffic Safety looked at the years 2012 through 2016 for their data and identified Otter Tail County as being No. 9 on the list. It was determined that 42% of the state’s drunk-driving deaths (183) and 56% of the alcohol-related serious injuries (768) occurred in these 13 counties from 2013 to 2017.

Otter Tail is one of five outstate counties with the dubious distinction. The others are Cass and Crow Wing in north-central Minnesota, Olmsted in southeast Minnesota and St. Louis in northeast Minnesota. The remaining eight are all in the metro area with Hennepin County ranking No. 1 and Ramsey County ranking No. 2.

Fitzgibbons has seen reasons for hope that Otter Tail can reduce the dangers of driving caused by alcohol and drugs.

“Through increased training, law enforcement is getting better at detecting those affected by drugs. DWI’s are not only alcohol-related, but include those with controlled substance,” Fitzgibbons said.

There were two fatal vehicle deaths in 2018 in Otter Tail. The present year had seen one.

The 13 counties will continue to see extra DWI patrols through September, 2020. 

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