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Editorial: Law enforcement on extra DWI patrol this 4th of July week

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, county sheriffs' offices, and other public safety agencies statewide will step up patrols for intoxicated boaters this weekend as part of Operation Dry Water, a national campaign aimed at deterring drinking and boating.

The goal is to reduce the number of accidents and deaths associated with alcohol and drug use on Minnesota waters.

The state's 2017 boating season has been the most deadly since 2005, with nine boating fatalities already recorded. In 2016, alcohol was a factor in nine of 17 deadly boating accidents in Minnesota.

Boating while intoxicated is one of the leading factors for boating accidents and fatalities in Minnesota and across the nation. State boating accident statistics show that over the past five years, an average of 42 percent of fatal boating accidents were alcohol-related.

"We have zero tolerance for anyone found operating a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs," said DNR Conservation Officer Adam Block. "Drunk boating is drunk driving. Boaters should be aware that a BWI carries the same consequences as a DWI."

In Minnesota, a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher while operating a boat is against the law — the same limit as for driving a vehicle.

Block is absolutely correct in saying, "Recreational boating is a fun and enjoyable activity. Consuming alcohol while on the water can hinder that experience and create a dangerous scenario on the water. Alcohol impairs judgment and reaction time on the water just as it does when driving a car, even more so because of the added stressors of sun, heat, wind, noise and the vibrations of the boat."

The DNR wants everyone to enjoy their summer on the water, and to do that you've got to stay safe and stay sober while underway.

As Operation Dry Water weekend and the Fourth of July holiday approach, law enforcement and recreational boating safety officials will be out educating boaters about safe boating practices and removing impaired operators from the water.

"We'd rather arrest someone than have to tell their friends and family—or the friends and family of an innocent victim—that they're never coming home. No one should ever be injured or killed because someone chose to drink and boat," Block said.

Tips to staying safe on the water:

• Boat sober. Alcohol use is the leading contributing factor in recreational boater deaths. Alcohol and drug use impair a boater's judgment, balance, vision and reaction time.

• Wear a life jacket. 90 percent of drowning victims in Minnesota were not wearing a life jacket. The majority of fatal boating accidents turn deadly because the victim isn't wearing a life jacket. But being intoxicated is often what causes them to end up in the water in the first place.

• Take a boating safety education course. 77 percent of deaths occurred on boats where the operator did not receive boating safety instruction, where instruction was known.

DWI enforcement will be stepped up on Minnesota roads this week also. Law enforcement is taking this approach: "Don't give up your freedom celebrating America's birthday, plan for a sober ride."

According to the Minnesota DPS:

During the last five years, 2,016 people have been arrested for DWI in Minnesota during the July 4 holiday period.

• 2012 (Wednesday) — 182

• 2013 (Thursday) — 551

• 2014 (Friday) — 464

• 2015 (Saturday) — 407

• 2016 (Monday) — 412

Law enforcement across the state will continue to be vigilant with extra DWI enforcement to get drunk drivers off the road. July 4 is the second leading holiday for DWI arrests at 4.3 per hour, just behind Labor Day at 4.6 per hour.

In the last five years (2012 — 2016), 21 people were killed in traffic crashes in Minnesota. In 2016, six people lost their lives on Minnesota roads.

Please be safe this holiday week on the water and roads.

Enjoy a safe and patriotic 4th of July!