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Time to Get Serious about Wisconsin’s OWI Laws

Wisconsin has a serious reputation for alcohol abuse and driving under the influence. It is time to take the problem seriously.

In Wisconsin we have earned the reputation for being a culture steeped in alcohol and much of it can be traced back to our Central and Eastern European roots. In any case, we have some of the laxest alcohol statutes to be found in the U.S., including the OWI laws. Since so many people don’t take the responsibility for drinking responsibly and then driving, it’s time to redo the statutes and put some real teeth into them.

In the first place, our OWI consequences are much too lax and fail to give a serious message to violators. Every time a challenge is made to the alcohol culture, whether it’s increasing the state alcohol tax, the drinking age, hours for the sale of alcohol, bar and tavern hours, OWI reform, legal intoxication levels, etc; the alcohol special interests go ballistic. Remember when we almost had our federal highway funds cut off when we resisted to lowering the intoxication level from .10 to .08. Even smoking bans in bars and taverns created such a stir that the Tavern League put up a horrendous fight, since smoking and alcohol consumption are so closely linked and they feared that it would cut directly into their patronage. Therefore, since we will be unable to change the basic alcohol culture, then we are left to only one device; tighten the OWI laws.

When I say tighten, I mean put them where they should have been all along. Here are my suggestions:

First OWI under 0.15 BAC

Conviction:

  • Class A misdemeanor
  • Fine up to $10,000
  • Jail up to 9 months
  • License revocation – one year mandatory
  • Application for Occupational License – 180 days from conviction
  • Mandatory drug and alcohol education course
  • Loss of the ability to purchase a vehicle while under license revocation
  • Loss of the ability to purchase a firearm while under license revocation and loss of a conceal carry permit

First OWI 0.15 and over BAC

  • Class I felony
  • Fine up to $10,000
  • Jail up to 3 1/2 years
  • License revocation – two year mandatory
  • Application for Occupational License – 1 year from conviction
  • Mandatory drug and alcohol education course
  • Loss of the ability to purchase a vehicle while under license revocation
  • Loss of the ability to purchase and posses a firearm
  • Vehicle equipped with IID after reinstatement of license or reinstatement of occupation license

Second OWI

  • Class H felony
  • Fine up to $10,000
  • Jail up to 6 years
  • License revocation – 5 year mandatory
  • Application for Occupational License – 1 year from conviction
  • Mandatory drug and alcohol treatment
  • Loss of the ability to purchase a vehicle while under license revocation
  • Loss of the ability to purchase and posses a firearm
  • Vehicle equipped with IID after reinstatement of license or reinstatement of occupation license

Third OWI and subsequent OWI violations

  • Class E felony
  • Fine up to $50,000
  • Jail up to 15 years
  • License revocation – lifetime mandatory
  • Application for Occupational License – not applicable
  • Mandatory drug and alcohol treatment
  • Loss of the ability to purchase a vehicle
  • Loss of the ability to purchase and posses a firearm

It is not my intent to place any kind of prohibition on the use of alcohol; but, we have to take decisive action against those who drive intoxicated. Making the consequences for OWI more stringent will hopingly impact those planning their next night out and will decide to find alternative means of transportation if they plan on becoming intoxicated.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Mike Knight August 20, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Everyone needs to have designated sober drivers when they go out to their beer bars. If the police really wanted to arrest half the populace all they'd have to do is wait outside taverns, and pull everyone over the minute they drive away.
Daniel S. August 20, 2012 at 05:14 PM
@ Mike Knight " If the police really wanted to arrest half the populace all they'd have to do is wait outside taverns, and pull everyone over the minute they drive away." So why don't they do this? Random police parking lot blockades. Rather than arrest them, they fine them say $100 for every .01 over the limit of .08. Take away their keys and call a cab or provide a bus ride home (at their own expense). To get their keys back, they must go to the police department no sooner than 12 hours (sobering up time). Cars left at the place of infraction would be booted, so they could not be removed from the establishment with a second set of keys. There of course would be stiffer penalties for repeat offenders and those with unusually high BAC levels. If we as a nation wanted to truly put the brakes on runaway alcohol and drug problems, it could be done. How far do we want to go into invasion of freedom and rights?
Vickie Boneck August 20, 2012 at 08:55 PM
Wisconsin residents convicted of OWI are required to obtain an assessment as part of the process to regain their driver's license. IMPACT, a non-profit organization that has been helping people with alcohol and drug issues for over 50 years, is the largest provider of assessment and referral services in the state. Of the approximately 4,000 Milwaukee County residents that IMPACT assesses each year for an OWI, about half are referred to an education program and the other half are referred to a treatment program based on their assessment findings. Milwaukee OWI clients have one of the lowest re-offense rates in all Wisconsin counties, still, IMPACT contends that reducing recidivism and promoting designated drivers addresses only part of a broader issue. The goal of IMPACT’s *stop drinking [SO MUCH] milwaukee* campaign is to help people connect the dots between their risky drinking behaviors and any problems they're having in life. Risky drinkers are more likely to land in the hospital, encounter financial and legal problems, and experience personal crises such as unemployment or divorce. Many people drink beyond what is safe without even realizing it. We want them to get educated about risky drinking limits; to be able to identify a problem before it reaches a crisis; and to know that IMPACT is a reliable resource for information and assistance. To learn more, go to http://www.impactinc.org/impact-awareness/stop-drinking-so-much-mke/
Neil A Rubble August 21, 2012 at 05:48 PM
I don't think this is a big joke....just Lyle's solution to it.
Neil A Rubble August 21, 2012 at 05:51 PM
Hey Mike, some great logic.

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