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 United States road mileage and 40 percent of the vehicle-miles traveled.
In 2010, 19 percent of the United States 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 2013, the fatality rate per miles driven was 2.6 times higher in rural areas than in urban areas. (The Minnesota Department of Public Safety reported that in 2014 74 percent of Minnesota traffic fatalities occurred in rural areas.)
Nationwide in 2013, 10,076 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes and rural areas accounted for 54 percent of these fatalities.
Compliance with seat-belt laws is also less in rural areas, according to NHTSA. We often hear news reports that the victim was ejected from the vehicle:
53 percent of rural passenger vehicle occupants killed were unrestrained compared to 48 percent of urban passenger vehicle occupants killed.
Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of rural pickup truck occupants killed were unrestrained, the highest percentage of any passenger vehicle occupants killed among both rural and urban areas.
Seat belt use goes down as BAC levels go up:
- BAC .00 – Belt use 84 percent
- BAC .08+ - Belt use 13 percent
- No difference in rural v. urban use
Finally, there will likely be more serious medical consequences from being injured in a crash caused by a drunk driver in a rural area due to increased response times based on distance to be traveled by emergency response teams. So, when you are out on a county road during the night, be vigilant, and wear your seat belt. That vehicle coming over the next hill may be operated by a drunk driver or a deer may be around the next bend. Be careful out there.
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.
Submitted by Judge Steve Halsey, Wright County District Court, chambered in Buffalo. Judge Halsey is the host of “The District Court Show” on local cable TV public access channels throughout the Tenth Judicial District. Excerpts can be viewed at WWW.QCTV.org/ districtcourtshow. Judge Halsey may also be heard on “Legal Happenings” on KRWC 1360 AM (Buffalo) on Saturdays at 12:30 p.m.