The state of Minnesota is about to get even stricter about driving while intoxicated. On Aug. 1, the threshold for gross misdemeanor DWI will drop from 0.20 blood alcohol concentration to 0.16 BAC. A gross misdemeanor carries a sentence of up to one year in jail, a fine of $3,000 or both.
Make no mistake: A 0.16 percent BAC is still double the legal limit. A driver who tests at 0.16 is still seriously impaired. Before Aug. 1, though, that driver would be facing 90 days in jail, not a year, with a fine limited to $1,000 at most. And, a gross misdemeanor on a driver’s record can increase the penalties for subsequent DWI convictions. Aside from the criminal consequences, the driver will likely see an increase in auto insurance premiums, too.
According to the Star Tribune, repeat offenders will feel the greatest effect of the lower limit. Research has shown that the average BAC for a repeat offender in this state is 0.165. The newspaper’s analysis concluded that the lower threshold could translate into as many as 3,000 additional gross misdemeanor DWIs during an average year.
The defense bar believes the lower limit is too punitive: First-time offenders in the state registered an average BAC of 0.148, and the penalty is excessive for a first offense. Supporters counter that research has shown that the odds of being in an accident are much greater if the driver blows a 0.15 or higher BAC. From 2011 to 2013, Minnesota logged 77 fatalities in accidents involving drivers with recorded BACs between 0.16 and 0.19. Another 42 were injured.
Currently, 1 in 7 Minnesota drivers has at least one DWI on record.