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Give the gift of life: Plan a sober ride this holiday season

Minnesotans are entering the holiday season and their choices can bring families together or bring life-changing tragedy. A choice that should always become a holiday tradition is planning a sober ride before drinking alcohol.

Choices to drive drunk have contributed to 27 deaths on Minnesota roads from the day before

Thanksgiving through Dec. 30 in the last five years (2012-2016 preliminary). To protect Minnesotans from deadly decisions, there will be statewide extra DWI enforcement starting Nov. 22 and on weekends through Dec. 30.

Officers, deputies and troopers from more than 300 agencies, including Goodhue County, will be working overtime with funding provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety coordinates the extra enforcement and education effort.

"There's so much excitement around the holidays as Minnesotans get together with friends and family, some of whom they haven't seen for a while," said Bob Hawkins, assistant commissioner, Minnesota Department of Public Safety. "The scary part is when drinking and driving becomes part of the festivities. For too many Minnesota families, there's going to be an empty seat at the table because of one poor choice. Please plan ahead for a sober ride."

Choices behind the wheel

Minnesota's enhanced DWI enforcement and education efforts have been factors in the continued reduction of alcohol-related deaths. Still, drunk driving remains a serious threat, contributing to 95 deaths in 2015. There were more than 25,000 motorists arrested for DWI in 2015, and 1 in 7 Minnesota drivers has a DWI on record. The number of motorists still driving drunk is never acceptable and potentially deadly.

In Minnesota, the holiday periods with the highest proportion of drunk driving-related fatalities for 2011- 2015 are:

• July 4 (45.5 percent)

• Christmas (35.3 percent)

• Thanksgiving (33.3 percent)

DWI consequences

A DWI offense can result in loss of license for one to six years, thousands of dollars in costs and possible jail time. Repeat DWI offenders, as well as first-time offenders arrested at 0.16 and above alcohol-concentration level, must use ignition interlock in order to regain legal driving privileges or face at least one year without a driver's license. Offenders with three or more offenses are required to use interlock for three to six years, or they will never regain driving privileges.

Commit to a sober ride

• Plan for a safe ride — designate a sober driver, use a cab, or stay at the location of the celebration.

• Speak up — offer to be a designated driver or be available to pick up a loved one anytime, anywhere. If you see an impaired person about to get behind the wheel, get them a safe ride home.

• Buckle up — the best defense against a drunk driver.

• Report drunk driving — call 911 when witnessing impaired driving behavior. Be prepared to provide location, license plate number and observed dangerous behavior.

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