Minnesota's Drunk Driving Laws, Penalties and Injury Lawsuits

Minnesota's Drunk Driving Laws, Penalties and Injury Lawsuits

What to do if you’re injured by a drunk driver in the North Star State

Whether you’re the victim of a drunk driving accident in Minnesota or the perpetrator, there are some things you should know.
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On a late summer night in Minnesota, James Blue offered to give a ride in his luxury Bentley to Mack Motzo, the 20-year-old son of Minnesota Gophers hockey coach Bob Motzko, and Sam Schuneman, a 24-year-old graduate of the University of St. Thomas.

James had a blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) of approximately 0.20 (well over the legal limit) and had recently consumed marijuana gummies when he got behind the wheel.

James proceeded to drive nearly 100 miles per hour on a curvy road lined with trees. He lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a wooded area on the 3100 block of North Shore Drive in Orono.

James was ejected from the vehicle but survived the crash. Mack and Sam were not as fortunate.

In this article, we’ll take a look at drunk driving accidents in Minnesota, including what constitutes drunk driving and how accident victims and their families can recover damages after a drunk driving accident.

What constitutes “drunk driving” in Minnesota?

Driving while impaired (DWI) refers to an individual operating a motor vehicle while affected by alcohol or drugs (including marijuana and prescription medication).

There are 2 types of DWI charges in Minnesota: per se DWI and impairment DWI.

What is a per se DWI?

You can be charged with a DWI in Minnesota if the result of a breath or blood test shows any of the following:

  • A blood-alcohol content (BAC) of .08% or higher for adults (21 and over)
  • A BAC of .04% or higher for commercial vehicle drivers
  • A BAC of over .00 for minors (under 21)
  • Any amount of a Schedule I or II drug, except marijuana, in the body

What is an impairment DWI?

You can also be charged with a DWI if you are “under the influence” of alcohol or drugs while operating a motor vehicle, even if you consumed less than the legal limit.

How does a court decide if a driver is “under the influence” of alcohol or drugs?

The court will look at all the evidence (erratic driving, slurred speech, poor performance on a field sobriety test, etc.) to determine whether the alcohol or drugs has affected the driver’s nervous system, brain, or muscles to the point that the driver could not operate their vehicle in the manner that a prudent and cautious person would.

Do I have to take a breathalyzer test?

The short answer is:

Yes.

A person who operates a vehicle in Minnesota automatically consents to a chemical test of breath, blood, or urine for the purpose of determining the presence of alcohol or drugs.

Both the United States and Minnesota Supreme Courts have determined that an officer does NOT need a warrant to require a person to provide a breath sample, but DOES need a warrant to require a person to provide a blood or urine sample.

Before an officer can require a breath test or obtain a warrant for a blood or urine test, the police officer must have probable cause to believe that a person has been driving while impaired.

Officers typically build probable cause by doing the following:

  • Observing the impaired driving behavior,
  • Stopping to question the driver, and
  • Administering a standardized field sobriety test (SFST).

The penalty for refusing to take a sobriety test is 1 year in jail and/or a $3,000 fine and a license suspension in addition to the penalty you may receive if convicted of a DWI.

Facing factsDWI arrests in Minnesota dropped from 29,479 in 2011 to 22,653 in 2020, a 23% decrease, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Is it illegal to drive with an open bottle of alcohol in Minnesota?

Minnesota’s open bottle law makes it a crime to have an open bottle of alcohol in your motor vehicle unless the open bottle is kept in the trunk of your vehicle or some other area that’s not occupied by passengers.

The open bottle law does not prohibit possession (or consumption) of alcoholic beverages by passengers in buses, limousines, motorboats, or pedal pubs.

What are the penalties for driving while impaired in Minnesota?

The penalties for driving while impaired in Minnesota are harsh. Here are the penalties for a 1st-time offense:

DWI penalties in Minnesota (1st offense)
Alcohol-concentration Criminal penalties Administrative sanctions
Under 0.16 90 days in jail and/or $1,000 fine Driver has a choice of the following:

  • 15 days of no driving privileges and a limited license for the remaining 90-day period, or
  • Full driving privileges for a 90-day period with the use of ignition interlock
Under 0.16 and child in the vehicle 1 year in jail and/or

 $3,000 fine
Driver has a choice of the following:

  • 15 days of no driving privileges and a limited license for the remaining 90-day period, or
  • Full driving privileges for a 90-day period with the use of ignition interlock
0.16 or over 1 year in jail and/or

 $3,000 fine
  • 1 year of no driving privileges or 1 year of an ignition interlock restricted driver’s license
  • License plates impounded
  • Vehicle forfeited
0.16 or over and child in the vehicle 1 year in jail and/or

 $3,000 fine
  • 1 year of no driving privileges or 1 year of an ignition interlock restricted driver’s license
  • License plates impounded
  • Vehicle forfeited

The penalties for driving while under the influence become increasingly more severe with each subsequent offense. For example, drivers with 4 or more offenses in 10 years can receive a prison sentence of 7 years, a $14,000 fine, and a permanent license revocation, among other penalties.

What is an ignition interlock device?

An ignition interlock device is a breathalyzer. The device is installed in your vehicle and requires you to provide a breath sample in order to start your vehicle. If the device detects alcohol on your breath, it will not allow you to start the car.

What should I do if I'm injured by a drunk driver in Minnesota?

If you’re injured in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, you can file an insurance claim as you would in any other Minnesota car accident by following these steps:

  1. Contact your insurance agent to file a claim under your PIP coverage (regardless of who was at fault for the accident).
  2. If your PIP coverage runs out and the accident was caused by another driver, contact the at-fault driver’s insurance company and make a claim against their liability insurance policy. You can also make a claim for property damage to your vehicle this way.
  3. If your damages exceed the at-fault driver’s liability coverage, make a claim on your underinsured benefits.
  4. If the at-fault driver has no insurance, you can make a claim on your uninsured motorist policy once your PIP coverage runs out.

You may need to file a personal injury lawsuit if your damages exceed the limits of the available insurance policies, or you may need to file a bad faith claim if the insurance company refuses to pay your claim.

Facing factsDrunk driving accidents are responsible for 20% of all traffic fatalities in Minnesota. In 2020, 79 people died in drunk driving-related crashes.

Minnesota dram shop laws

Every state has a “dram shop law,” which holds business establishments that sell alcohol (restaurants, bars, theaters, etc.) legally responsible for serving intoxicated patrons who later cause an accident.

Minnesota's Drunk Driving Laws, Penalties and Injury Lawsuits

Where does the term “dram shop” come from?

The term “dram shop” originates from the 18th century way of measuring alcohol. A “dram” is about ¾ of a teaspoon of alcohol. Establishments that sold alcohol were referred to as “dram shops.”

Minnesota’s dram shop law makes a person or establishment who illegally sells alcohol liable for any injuries or deaths that result from the illegal sale. A sale is considered illegal if:

  • The alcohol was sold to a person who was under the age of 21, or
  • The alcohol was sold to a person who was clearly intoxicated.

How to spot a drunk driver

The best way to avoid a drunk driving accident is to avoid a drunk driver.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has compiled some common signs of driving while under the influence to help you spot a drunk driver:

  • Quick acceleration or deceleration
  • Tailgating
  • Weaving or zig-zagging across the road
  • Driving anywhere other than on a road designated for vehicles
  • Almost striking an object, curb, or vehicle
  • Stopping without cause or erratic braking
  • Drifting in and out of traffic lanes
  • Signaling that is inconsistent with the driver’s actions
  • Slow response to traffic signals
  • Straddling the center lane marker
  • Driving with headlights off at night
  • Swerving
  • Driving slower than 10 mph below the speed limit
  • Turning abruptly or illegally
  • Driving into opposing traffic on the wrong side of the road


Were you injured by a drunk driver? Schedule a free initial consultation with a personal injury attorney in your area using our free online directory today.

 

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