- Associated Press - Monday, June 15, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Changes in the penalties for drunken driving could affect thousands of motorists in Minnesota who get behind the wheel while heavily intoxicated beginning in August.

The threshold for a gross misdemeanor driving offense was lowered this year by the Legislature to a blood-alcohol concentration of .16 percent. The decision to drop that threshold by .04 percentage point could result in nearly 3,000 more gross misdemeanor DWI offenses each year, the Star Tribune (https://strib.mn/1fblGoW ) reported.

The change also carries maximum one-year jail terms, up from 90 days under the misdemeanor standard, and triples the current $1,000 maximum fine. It also authorizes stiffer bail of up to $12,000, which could result higher auto insurance rates and heftier legal bills, as well as stiffer penalties for subsequent DWI offenses.

Some lawyers representing DWI offenders say the lower threshold is too punitive, while supporters say it will help save lives.

Research shows that the likelihood getting into a car accident increases significantly above a blood-alcohol concentration of 1.15 percent, according to state Sen. Ron Latz of St. Louis Park, the chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate. The threshold of .16 percent was used in the legislation because it’s “twice the legal limit” for a misdemeanor DWI, making it easier to grasp, he said.

“Hopefully, you’ll have fewer people take the serious chance of those extra few drinks,” Latz said.

On average, more than 5,000 people each year for the past three years were charged in Minnesota for driving with blood-alcohol levels between .16 and .19 percent.

One out of every seven drivers licensed in Minnesota has at least one DWI. And the state has the highest DWI recidivism rate in the nation, at over 40 percent.

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Information from: Star Tribune, https://www.startribune.com


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