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Police are expected to be out in force during the holiday season with patrols and sobriety checkpoints aimed at keeping the streets free of intoxicated drivers. Photo courtesy of Dickinson Police Department.

Nearly half of ND motor vehicle fatalities involve alcohol, study says

DICKINSON, N.D. -- North Dakota ranks second in the nation for the most impaired-driving deaths per capita, studies show.

In 2017, the percentage of motor vehicle crash deaths that had alcohol involvement in North Dakota was 47 percent, according to the 2018 North Dakota Behavioral Health System Study.

Nearly half of all motor vehicle fatalities involved alcohol, so law enforcement members regularly caution drivers to have a plan and be especially watchful during the holidays because more people tend to consume alcohol during that season.

"If you think you are going to be drinking, please get a responsible designated driver, and use ride shares or taxi cabs," said Dickinson Police Department Capt. David Wilkie. "Just don't drive because there are going to be officers out there who will arrest you up for driving under the influence. And everybody knows that is a huge financial burden. It gets costly. Getting a DUI is not worth it."

Stopping off for a cold one after a long day may seem like a good idea, but depending on how much alcohol you consume, it could quickly become a bad one.

“There’s also a stigma to driving drunk,” said Wilkie. “In a lot of cases, for instance, if you’re a delivery driver or you work for an oil company or something like that, a DUI could cost you a job. So you’re not just looking at losing your license and possibly killing someone, you’re also looking at losing your livelihood.”

A report from USA Today ranked North Dakota as one of the highest states in the nation for binge drinking. Those statistics aren't surprising the experts.

"In the past decade, North Dakota has ranked in the top five states for the highest adult binge drinking rates pretty consistently," said Laura Anderson, assistant director of behavioral health with the Department of Human Services.

And the numbers seem to correlate with the state’s high numbers of DUIs.

"The biggest consequence we see with adult binge drinking in the state is drinking and driving," Anderson said. "Alcohol-related fatalities in the last 10 years ranged anywhere from 42 percent to as high as 52 percent."

This year’s fatality stats have been unusually low for the state, according to law enforcement officials, despite the one alcohol-related fatality per nine vehicle accidents statewide.

The Department of Human Services did have some good news: the rate of youth alcohol abuse has dropped by half, from about 60 percent in 2015-16 to just shy of 30 percent.

The report concludes that alcohol abuse and drinking and driving remain among the state’s most troublesome issues.

The Dickinson Police Department shared tips to prevent drinking and driving as the holiday party season approaches.

  • Choose a non-drinking designated driver if you plan to consume alcohol.

  • Ask for a ride.

  • When throwing a party, offer guests plenty of non-alcoholic beverages, and never pressure guests to drink alcohol.

  • Eat plenty of food while consuming alcohol and drink an 8-oz. glass of water with each drink.

Wilkie said that being a real friend entails protecting others by taking their keys if they attempt to drive after consuming alcohol.

“They may be mad at you, but the alternatives are much, much worse,” Wilkie said. “Do the right thing.”

Police officials also said there are several indicators associated with driving drunk, and keeping these in mind may help to avoid dangerous situations. They cautioned to be especially watchful for people who:

  • Make wide turns.

  • Weave, swerve, drift or straddle the centerline.

  • Almost strike an object or vehicle.

  • Drive on the wrong side of the road.

  • Drive at a very slow speed.

  • Stop without cause.

  • Brake erratically.

  • Respond slowly to traffic signals changing from red to green.

  • Turn abruptly or illegally.

  • Drive after dark without headlights.

“Even if you’re not drinking, other people will be,” Wilkie said. “Be cautious of other drivers when driving at night, on holidays or during the early morning hours.”