State Leads Nation In Drunk Driving
No state has more ignition interlock stops. Tougher rules needed?
Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) reports that ignition interlock devices stopped someone too drunk to drive from doing so 348,727 times across America last year. And one out of every 10 of those high-tech interventions – or 37,299 of them – occurred in Wisconsin, which has less than two percent of the nation’s population.
Wisconsin also led the nation in ignition interlock stops in the decade between 2006 and 2016, MADD reported. That’s remarkable, since Wisconsin didn’t enact its interlock requirement for repeat offenders and first-time offenders who had a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 percent or more – almost twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent – until 2010.
But, if you think MADD was congratulating Wisconsin, or suggesting that the ignition interlock be the next state symbol, think again.
“The MADD report shows the alarming number of times Wisconsin drivers have attempted to drive drunk – the highest number of drunk driving attempts in the country over a 10-year period,” said Frank Harris, MADD director of state government affairs.
“This is an indication of the dangerous drinking and driving culture in the state, and why MADD believes Wisconsin should do more to increase the number of these devices installed and ensure compliance with ignition interlock orders,” Harris added.
But, no, they are not going to make first-offense OWI a crime; Wisconsin is the only state where it’s a treated like a traffic ticket, albeit a very expensive ticket.
Republican Rep. Jim Ott, who wrote the 2010 ignition interlock law, has a new bill to close a loophole in it. Ott hopes to get a May 2 vote in the Assembly on AB 98; it got a unanimous committee vote.
Currently, there is no penalty for driving without the required interlock before driving privileges are restored by DOT after an OWI conviction.
Ott’s correction would allow a judge to set a date for installation of an ignition interlock and creates a penalty for driving without an interlock before driving privileges are restored.
If a judge orders you to install an ignition interlock on every car you own or are a registered driver, your life just got more complicated:
* You’ll pay a $50 court surcharge, between $75 and $150 to have it installed, and between $1,000 and $1,500 a year to rent the device.
* When you want to drive somewhere, you’ll have to blow into the device, which will read whether your blood-alcohol content violates terms of the court order. If it does, your vehicle won’t start.
* To prevent you from drinking after you start driving, the interlock device requires random on-the-road tests. If you fail that second test, or don’t take it, the car stops and the horn starts blowing.
WisDOT has complete statistics for 2015, when interlocks were ordered after one-third of all OWI convictions. The 10,716 interlocks ordered resulted in 7,774 installations – an installation rate of 72 percent. That was much better than the 2012 installation rate of 47 percent.
Ott said he hopes the 28 percent of interlock devices ordered but never installed were because the one convicted isn’t driving, is using public transportation, or having someone else drive them. But those drivers may have also just ignored the interlock order.
Ott also has two other bills toughening penalties for drunken driving that are much more controversial, and costly. They would impose a mandatory minimum five-year prison term for homicide by OWI and lengthen – from six to 18 months – the mandatory minimum prison sentence for fifth and sixth OWI convictions.
According to WisDOT records, OWI convictions statewide fell by 17 percent – from 37,251 in 2010 to 30,889 in 2015. Numbers on OWI convictions in 2016 were incomplete.
Ott has been pushing for tougher penalties for OWI since his 2006 election to the Assembly. “My hope is that there is less drunken driving,” he said.
Despite that 17 percent drop in OWI convictions, Wisconsin still has “a serious senior drinking problem – and it is getting worse,” said Julia Sherman, UW-Madison’s alcohol policy project coordinator.
Sherman explained: “Alcohol-related vehicular deaths were 15 percent of alcohol-related acute deaths in Wisconsin in 2015. Alcohol-related falls accounted for 37 percent of the acute alcohol-related deaths that year.”
Correction: My column last week wrongly said that increasing the 5 percent state sales tax to 6 percent would raise an additional $1.1 million. The correct amount is $1.1 billion.