MARSHALL - In Minnesota there are an average of 203 auto crashes a day, resulting in one death and 85 injuries. Thirty-two percent of all traffic deaths are alcohol related.
On Saturday afternoon, local law enforcement officers came to the Lyon County Law Enforcement Center for a refresher course on Driving While Intoxicated law and enforcement procedures and administering the Standard Field Sobriety Test.
The course was given by Minnesota Highway Patrol Lt. Don Marose, presently servicing with Capitol Security/Executive Protection, and sponsored by Minnesota West Community and Technical College.
Photo by Steve Browne
Marshall Police Officer Kathy Bresson practices administering the Romberg Balance test to Tracy Police Officer Adam Hansen at a course on Driving While Intoxicated law and enforcement procedures held on Saturday afternoon at the Lyon County Law Enforcement Center.
"By the time we all go to bed tonight, there'll be one less Minnesotan," Marose said.
In 2011, according to Marose, there were about 35,000 arrests for DWI.
"One in eight Minnesotans has a DWI record," Marose said.
DWI is defined as having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 percent, or 0.04 percent for commercial drivers, Marose explained. On a typical Friday or Saturday night, 10 percent or more of the drivers on the road could meet that definition.
"On a typical Friday night, one out of seven drivers leaving a bar is DWI," Marose said.
The goal of the course was to increase DWI deterrence and the number of alcohol-related crashes, deaths, and injuries, according to Marose.
"I'm taking a refresher of my previous training," said Marshall Police Officer Kathy Bresson. "Even city officers have worked fatal crashes. On Highway 23 we've had a lot of fatalities when drivers miss a stoplight and drive into 55 mile per hour cross traffic."
The reason 17 veteran law enforcement officers felt it necessary to take refresher course in procedures they have all been long familiar with, is that DWI case law is constantly and rapidly changing, Marose said. DWI charges are the most likely to be fought in court, and convictions most likely to be appealed. Every time a conviction is reversed, case law changes.
Officers also reviewed the procedures for administering the Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST) where subjects are asked to track an object with their eyes without turning their head, walk a straight line heel-to-toe nine steps forward turn and back, and stand on one foot for 30 seconds. A number of other tests were reviewed and discussed.
"A good FST divides the attention but is simple enough to do," Marose said, "because that's what driving is all about. A driver makes about 400 observations a minute and 200 decisions per mile traveled."
Marose pointed out that though police have breathalyzers available, they are subject to mechanical failure, and an officer must have probable cause to request a subject take the test, which comes from observations made during an FST. And an officer must be able to articulate why he made a judgement of impairment that will stand up under cross-examination.
Though the statistics for alcohol-related traffic fatalities are horrific, they are better than they were even 10 years ago.
"The DWI problem is less than what it used to be," said Chippewa County Deputy Rich Shamla. "To be honest, I think public perception of the issue has a lot to do with it."