Snowmobile Incident Sparks New Debate Over Minnesota DWI Law

A snowmobile crosses a frozen lake during sunset.The Minnesota State House is considering imposing tougher penalties for those who drive drunk on ATVs and snowmobiles. The law’s consideration arrives after an allegedly intoxicated snowmobile driver caused a fatality in Chisago City.

According to Rep Anne Neu of North Branch, who is the bill’s author, those who have been convicted of DWI for operating snowmobiles and ATVs receive less harsh penalties compared to those who’ve been convicted while driving on-road vehicles.

“It’s silly to think that for some reason there should be stiffer penalties for a DWI in a car than there are in an ATV or a snowmobile,” Neu stated, via a report appearing on the Minnesota Public Radio website. Neu also noted ATVs and snowmobiles were just as capable of destruction as other vehicles.

In effect, the new legislation would ban those convicted of operating snowmobiles and ATVs while intoxicated from using such vehicles again for a particular period of time, more in line with penalties regular vehicle operators receive.

The bill has already cleared an important hurdle. The House transportation committee in March passed the bill, sending it to the full House floor for consideration. It also has a number of high profile supporters, including the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association and the MN Department of Natural Resources.

The incident that led to the bill’s consideration involved a man who had previously faced DWI issues and license revocations. The victim was an 8-year-old boy.

Imposing restrictions on DWI violators who drive ATVs and snowmobiles also faces another challenge: There’s no way to install ignition interlock devices on such vehicles, something Rep Ann Neu has admitted is a challenge. Rather, she has emphasized that awareness efforts also must play an important role going forward.

According to Statistica.com, Minnesota had the second most snowmobile registrations in 2016, lagging only behind its neighbor to the east, Wisconsin.