Rural areas continue to see higher rates of impaired driving

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Metropolitan areas in Minnesota and Wisconsin have seen significant declines in the number of impaired driving offenses, but the rate of drunken driving in rural areas remains high.

Minnesota's Dakota, Washington and Hennepin counties saw the steepest reductions in chronically impaired drivers between 2015 and 2016. Hennepin, Minnesota's largest county, experienced nearly a 100-person drop in DWI convictions for a fourth or higher DWI offense.

READ MORE: Impaired in the north country: Chronic drunken drivers plague Minn., Wis. roads

Director Donna Berger of Minnesota's Office of Traffic Safety said the downturn is in line with a decade-long decline in drunken driving across the state.

"Through education and enforcement most Minnesotans are making the right choice when it comes to lining up a sober ride," she said, adding "but we still have a long ways to go."

In some rural counties, the number of chronic drunken drivers has either remained steady or has seen an uptick in the past five years.

Stearns, Rice and Clay in Minnesota, saw the highest year-to-year increase between 2015 and 2016. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, Jefferson, Monroe and Lafayette counties also saw the state's highest increase over that same period.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wisconsin had a higher level of heavy drinkers. The agency defines heavy drinkers as adult men having more than 14 drinks and adult women having more than seven drinks per week.

In 2015, the CDC noted 6.5 percent of Minnesotans as heavy drinkers, compared to 8.2 of Wisconsin adults, the third highest in the nation.

But rural residents tend also to be heavier drinkers than their urban counterparts in Minnesota.

According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, 4.8 percent metro-area resident adults are defined as heavy drinkers. That's lower than the state average and far lower compared to more than 9 percent of adults in the Arrowhead region and 5.5 percent in southeastern Minnesota.

Wisconsin's department of health does not track the prevalence of heavy drinking by county. However, the department highlighted binge drinking as a high concern in its recent annual report on alcohol and drug use.

Results across countries vary, though

According to DHS, only 18 percent Jefferson County residents reported binge drinking, for example, compared to 29 percent of adults in St. Croix County, which was among the lowest counties for impaired driving convictions. Fifty-nine percent of residents living in Milwaukee County reported binge drinking, the report said.

The statewide average for binge drinking sat at 23 percent of adults between 2012 and 2014.