Wisconsin Has a Drinking Problem

Two Wisconsin legislators are working on toughening up the state's drunken driving laws. Much more needs to be done to address our serious drinking problem.

Wisconsin has a drinking problem. This is not exactly news to state residents. Last year the CDC reported that nearly 23 percent of adults here are binge drinkers, putting Wisconsin among the top in the nation.

A study by a division of the Department of Health and Human Services noted that Wisconsin is also number one in drunk driving, with 23.7 percent of all people 16 years or older driving under the influence of alcohol over a one-year period.

The lack of teeth in our drunken driving laws has also been widely reported. They are among the weakest in the nation. Wisconsin is the only state where first offense drunken driving is a traffic offense and is only a crime when a child younger than 16 is in the vehicle.

So Sen. Alberta Darling’s (R-River Hills) plan to propose tougher drunken driving laws is a good one. The legislation would make a person’s third OWI a felony. At the moment, it is a felony after a fourth conviction within a period of five years.

Darling and Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) are also pondering a sobriety checkpoint pilot program and treatment programs for repeat offenders.

Some have balked at the costs, but that is a misguided complaint. The Department of Transportation estimated that alcohol-related crashes cost the state more than $500 million in 2000. Not to mention the hundreds of people killed every year in a car accident involving drunk driving.

While it is great that Darling and Ott are trying to do something about the problem, we need more lawmakers to get serious about it. We also need to focus on more than just drunken driving laws. The drinking problem here is cultural, as evidenced by a series of deaths across the state this year alone.

There is the well-known case of Michael Philbin, 21 when he died after falling through the ice in Oshkosh back in January. In April, UW Stevens-Point student Eric Duffey, also 21, died in March. He accidentally drowned in the Wisconsin River.

Two other recent deaths in Milwaukee highlight the severity of binge drinking statewide. In May, 32-year-old Robert Pierzchalski fell from a downtown Milwaukee parking lot after a night of drinking. He was found at 3 a.m. The Medical Examiner’s report notes that he was tailgating prior to a Brewers-Cubs game that began at 1 p.m. He then went bar-hopping on Water Street until 1 or 2 a.m. That means Pierzchalski might have been drinking for more than 12 straight hours prior to his death.

The other recent accidental death is that of , which received widespread media attention. He was missing for nearly two weeks before his body was found in March in the Milwaukee River. Like Pierzchalski, he had spent many hours drinking prior to disappearing. Hecht and his friends had participated in a St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl.

The fact that Philbin and Duffy and Pierzchalski and Hecht were not driving did not save them. All are dead way too young because they made foolish decisions after consuming too much alcohol. As long as we keep acting as if binge drinking is normal, acceptable behavior, these senseless and preventable deaths will continue. Why does anyone need to drink all day and night? Why are so many residents of this state unable to go out for a beer or two? Instead it's six, eight or 10 beers, not to mention hard alcohol.

Whether it’s a Packer/Brewer/Badger game day, St. Patrick’s Day, or a random Saturday night, it should not be considered normal to consume that much alcohol in a single day.

So while it’s commendable that Darling and Ott are developing legislation to stiffen up our drunken driving laws, there are other serious alcohol-related problems in Wisconsin that need immediate attention.

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.

James R Hoffa July 11, 2012 at 04:22 AM
$$andNonsense - Lighten up and lose the edge already - it's making you look like a grumpy old man! I realized that most of your post was pure sarcasm. I'll rhetorically ask you again, do you think that Hoffa is stupid? However, I thought that you were being serious wherein you stated "PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS GOING TO DIE FROM STUPIDITY! You cannot fix stupid through legislation." And I wholly agree with such a sentiment. So drop the bs already! Even when I agree with the man, he attacks me - incredible!
Johnny Paycheck July 11, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Do you really think that there's there's enough cabs for 30-40% of the people at the show to all take one?
$$andSense July 12, 2012 at 02:47 AM
Neither old or grumpy. Just smarter, wiser and more experienced. Do you argue with your father about these same issues? Age and wisdom has it's advantage. No denial on the Genny X I see. Check out my post on your egomania. Rather fitting. Are you stupid? Never met you or know your life's history (except for info you tendered so far) so no comment. But stupid causes lots of problems and kills people every day. Politicians, drunk drivers and idiots in general, etc. abound. Again,,,,sigh...$$and NonSense. Just don't care for Ben Franklin do you? Again...sigh...using the name of a union thug and passing yourself off as against unions. No shame with you Genny Xer's.
James R Hoffa July 12, 2012 at 03:27 AM
$$andNonsense - The great Hoffa doesn't associate with any particular generation, as he was never conceived in the traditional sense - instead, Hoffa is like the universe and just exists to exude greatness. Call it immaculate if you must, although Hoffa won't because he's a truly humble guy at heart! When did Hoffa ever say that he was against private sector unions?
joey July 12, 2012 at 03:24 PM
@ Bren Why stop there? Obesity causes major health problems. Paying for those health problems is a financial burden on the non-obese. How about we tax people by the pound? We can create a government office where people must report to be weighed twice a year. The government minders will determine if you are overweight or not. If they determine you're overweight, they tax you by the pound. If you have no income, they take away your food stamps until you drop to a normal weight. I challenge you to come up with a plan that is more fair.


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