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DWI laws: a history lesson that can help you protect your future

There are lessons to be learned from history. We study the successes, failures and social movements of the past so that they can help guide our actions. They can also help us prepare for our future, even in situations involving drunk driving.

Drunk driving laws have had a long history, which began in 1911. It was in this year that the Minnesota Legislature first passed laws making impaired driving a misdemeanor criminal offense. In the years that passed, the laws became tougher and more detailed.

Below are a few of the notable additions or amendments:

  • 1917: The concept of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) evidence was introduced, with an offending limit of 0.15 percent.
  • 1961: The implied consent law was introduced; if you want a driver’s license, then you automatically agree (your consent is implied) to submit to chemical testing that can be used against you in court.
  • 1971: Minnesota led the effort to attach a per se 0.10 BAC to administrative license sanctions, meaning if you register a 0.10 BAC you automatically face the penalties.
  • 1988: License plate impoundment.
  • 1989: Refusing an alcohol-detection test becomes a crime.
  • 1997: A 0.20 BAC can be used to enhance sentencing.
  • 2001: Felony penalties are introduced.
  • 2004: BAC lowered from 0.15 percent to the 0.08 BAC it is today.
  • 2010: Ignition Interlock became part of the sentencing guidelines.
  • 2015: First-time offenders with a 0.16 BAC can be charged with a gross misdemeanor, lowered from 0.20 BAC.

Each of these additions or amendments have one thing in common; they make DWI laws tougher. No change has lessened the penalties. With 88 deaths related to drunk driving in 2014, you can bet that penalties will continue to increase not decrease.

What is the big-picture lesson you should take with you? You never know what will happen in the future. You could face a DWI down the road, and the court can use prior convictions against you during sentencing. Fight every DWI charge and all penalties, even a  seemingly minor offense, when you have the opportunity and best chance to do so.

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