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Joining forces to combat drunk drivers

Cities throughout Washington County have partnered with the county's Department of Public Health and Environment's Safe Communities Coalition to prevent drinking and driving during their annual summer festivals.

Cottage Grove and Oakdale participated in June at their cities' events, and Woodbury, St. Paul Park, Newport, and the County Fair will participate later this summer.

As part of the Sober Driver Campaign, sober driver banners are strategically placed at the entrances to the festival beer gardens.

Each beer vendor wears a button that promotes safe driving, and posters are hung in the vicinity as a reminder to "Make your 'last call' to a sober driver."

Oakdale's Summerfest Chair Ted Bearth said "public response was positive" and that participants said hanging the banners was "a good thing."

According to Bearth, the city is interested in participating in the Sober Driver Campaign again next year.

In 2004, Washington County's Department of Public Health and Environment established the Safe Communities Coalition to decrease injury and death from impaired driving working with community groups and businesses to promote safe driving.

The coalition includes members from law enforcement, driver's education, schools, health care, EMS, local businesses, public works, public health, the county attorney's office and residents.

Minnesota ranks third in the nation for drunk driving incidents following Wisconsin and North Dakota, which hold first and second place, respectively (National Survey on Drug Use and Health).

Although Washington County's record has been improving over the past few years, in 2006, it had 152 alcohol-related crashes and 1,845 impaired driving incidents based on arrests.