Why Wisconsin Has Weak Laws on Drunken Driving
Legislators reject tougher penalties, even for repeat offenders. First of a series.
‘Let’s focus on things that work’
Neither the Tavern League nor MillerCoors took a position on the bills sponsored by Darling and Ott. “There just wasn’t a compelling reason one way or the other to lobby for or against them,” Stenger said.
The Tavern League did oppose a Democratic bill to mandate ignition interlock devices for all OWI offenses. Currently the devices are required only for second and subsequent offenses, first offenses with a BAC of .15 or more, and cases in which the driver causes injury or refuses a sobriety test.
Stenger said mandating these devices “isn’t working under current law,” since some drivers ordered to use them continue to reoffend. “Let’s focus on things that work.”
But Harris, of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told lawmakers that “states with well-implemented interlock laws have seen significant reductions in drunk driving fatalities.” He cited research showing that 50 to 75 percent of convicted drunken drivers not required to use these devices continue to drive despite suspensions or revocation.
State data crunched by MADD shows that 2,122 of the 26,632 people convicted of OWI in 2012 were rearrested within six months for driving illegally.
Currently, 24 states either require or highly incentivize the use of interlock devices for all persons convicted of OWI. Increasing this number is MADD’s No. 1 legislative priority.
MADD also supports sobriety checkpoints, in which police stop drivers looking for signs of impairment. These checkpoints, which Harris calls “as much of an inconvenience to a sober driver as a red light,” are now used in 38 states.
Carpenter and Zepnick hope to introduce a bill next session to allow but not require municipalities to create these. They expect opposition from within both parties.
“People are afraid it’s going to be unfair or inequitable — targeting certain people or locations,” Zepnick said.
Fitzgerald expects continued discussion of ways to combat the state’s drunken driving problem, including an examination of current policies. One focus will be “gauging how successful our new treatment programs prove to be in comparison to other existing penalties.”
Ott supports the expanded use of treatment and diversion programs, saying “I recognize this is not just a matter of passing tougher laws.” But he thinks the laws do need to be tougher, and to that end “I plan on bringing some of these (bills) back next session, maybe do a few tweaks.”
Drunken driving bills in the Wisconsin Legislature, 2013-2014 session
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