Driving While Impaired - Minnesota Department of Health

Alcohol and Other Drugs
Driving While Impaired

Alcohol and drugs affect the brain and body, which can affect the safety of a person’s driving. Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs can affect a person’s decision-making, behaviors, personal safety, and the safety of others. Driving while impaired (DWI) can occur if a person is driving, operating, or in physical control of a car, motorcycle, boat, snowmobile, ATV, motorbike, off-road vehicle, or any other motor vehicle (1).

  • In 2017, 24,862 DWI arrests were made. This is a 3% increase from 2016, but is significantly lower than the 35,000 DWI incidents reported in 2008. (2).
  • About 1 in 7 Minnesotans has at least one DWI (2). Multiple DWIs may be a symptom of alcohol or substance use disorder.

Everyone is responsible for keeping our roadways safe. If you are planning to drink or take drugs that may affect your ability to drive, do not drive. If you need to drive, plan to avoid alcohol or drugs that may affect your ability to drive.

Talk to your doctor or health care provider if you are concerned with your, or someone else’s alcohol or drug use.

Impaired driving causes injury and death

Minnesotans are drinking and driving. More than 85,000 Minnesotans self-reported drinking and driving at least once in a 30-day period in 2016 (3).

  • In 2017, 2,389 people suffered from injuries in alcohol-related crashes (2)
  • In 2015, 71% of patients treated for injuries sustained in an alcohol-related crash were male, and the median age was 34 years.
  • 92 people died due to impaired driving in 2017 (4) – down from 95 deaths in 2015 (2).
  • A DWI can cost upwards of $20,000, jail time, loss of license, and higher insurance premiums.

The maximum legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) –the amount of alcohol in a person’s bloodstream— of a person driving can be no more than 0.08%. Alcohol begins to affect a person at the first sip, and the risk of crashes begins to increase at BAC levels below 0.08%.

Visit the CDC website for more information on how different levels of alcohol can affect your behavior and driving.

Persons under the legal drinking age of 21 years old are not allowed to have any amount of alcohol in their system while driving. This law is commonly called the “Not a Drop” law.

Drugged driving

Over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, marijuana, inhalants and illegal substances can affect a person’s driving. Drugs like opioids and benzodiazepines can cause sleepiness or drowsiness while driving. Stimulants, like cocaine and methamphetamine, can cause aggression and reckless driving. Inhalants can cause dizziness and lack of coordination (6). Drivers under the influence of marijuana have slower reaction times, are more likely to swerve in traffic lanes, and be distracted while on the road (7). Driving under the influence of marijuana is the second most common DWI offense (5, 7).

Talk to your doctor or health care provider about any medications and drugs you are taking, and how they may affect your ability to drive.  

Learn more about drugged driving.

Safer ways to get there

  • Designate a driver who will not use alcohol or drugs before, or while, driving.
  • Don’t let your friends drive impaired.
  • Plan ahead for a sober ride before partying.
  • Avoid driving to parties where alcohol or drugs are present.
  • Wear seat belts.

Designated drivers, taxis, ride-sharing programs, and public transportation are safer ways to get home.

Report Impaired Drivers

Driving requires a person’s full attention. If a person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the person might:

  • Have poor decision-making, judgment or reasoning
  • Have slow reaction times
  • Have very blurry or double vision
  • Feel drowsy or sleepy
  • See things that aren’t really there
  • Be more violent or aggressive
  • Not use a seat belt, life vest, or helmet
  • Perform other risky behaviors like drive at very slow or high speeds, and ignore warning and safety signs

If you suspect a person is driving under the influence, call 911 to report them to law enforcement. Get yourself in a safe position to call 911, and try your best to share these key pieces of information:

  • License plate, make, and model of the car
  • Driver’s location
  • Reasons, signs or actions that make you think it is a DWI driver

Additional Resources

CDC Motor Vehicle Safety: Impaired Driving
Minnesota Department of Public Safety: Impaired Driving
Minnesota Toward Zero Deaths Initiative (MN TZD)
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: Drug-Impaired Driving
National Institute on Drug Abuse: Drugged Driving

For more information

Contact Dana Farley, Alcohol & Drug Policy Director, Minnesota Department of Health at 651-201-5396 or dana.farley@state.mn.us


(1) Minnesota Statutes 169A.20
(2) Minnesota Department of Public Safety. Minnesota Impaired Driving Facts 2017 (PDF). Minnesota Department of Public Safety, Saint Paul, MN; 2018 Accessed 30 January 2019. 
(3) 2016 BRFSS data.
(4) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Traffic Safety Facts 2016 data: alcohol-impaired driving. U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC; 2017 Accessed 29 May 2018.
(5) Compton, R. P. & Berning, A. (2015, February). Drug and alcohol crash risk. (Traffic Safety Facts Research Note. DOT HS 812 117). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
(6) National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, June 3). Drugged Driving. Accessed 30 May, 2018
(7) Compton, R. (2017, July). Marijuana-Impaired Driving - A Report to Congress. (DOT HS 812 440). Washington, DC: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Updated Tuesday, 14-Apr-2020 11:07:52 CDT