Our View: We welcome tougher drunk driving lawsWisconsin drunk driving laws will stiffen beginning July 1 and, as far as the safety of citizens is concerned, the sooner the better.
By: Editorial staff, Hudson Star-Observer
Wisconsin drunk driving laws will stiffen beginning July 1 and, as far as the safety of citizens is concerned, the sooner the better.
Wisconsin drunk driving laws will not be as strict as some other states across the country — we can probably thank a strong beer and liquor lobby in Wisconsin for that. The new laws, however, are a step in the right direction. We live in a day and age when it is totally unacceptable to be lenient with people who take to the road while impaired and jeopardize the lives of innocent drivers.
A case in point — jail bookings for the period from May 4 through May 16 included 34 who were charged with drunken driving. That is an unbelievable number for many reasons. First, you’d like to think that all the public service announcements would help educate people about the dangers of drinking and driving — obviously that’s not working too well.
Second, if 34 people were caught and jailed, how many slipped through the cracks of law enforcement and swerved their way home in the early hours of the morning.
Of the 34, for several individuals it was not a first-time incident.
Six were charged with OWI-3rd offense, two with OWI-2nd and two with a fourth infraction. Whether it’s the first offense, or the fourth, it is time to get these drivers to change their flawed decision-making process. Hopefully stricter laws will serve as a deterrent.
As we said, there are many who believe Wisconsin’s new laws are still not as strict as they should be — but it is a step in the right direction.
The new penalties take special aim at teenage offenders and those with multiple infractions.
One major increase in the penalties involves first-offense drunken driving charge with a child age 16 in the car. The penalty has been increased from a traffic offense to a misdemeanor, thus making it a crime.
The other area that addresses teenagers is violation of absolute sobriety which goes from forfeiture, equal to a traffic ticket, to a misdemeanor offense and a $400 fine.
Other areas of the new laws applying to repeat offenders include a mandatory minimum jail time of 45 days, up from 30, for conviction of a third OWI offense. It also makes a fourth offense committed within five years of a prior offense a felony. Previously it took a fifth OWI to qualify as a felony.
The new penalties also require drivers convicted of a seventh, eighth or ninth offense to serve a mandatory minimum three-year prison sentence.
Another part of the new law requires first offense OWI with an alcohol content of 0.15 or higher and all second and subsequent OWI convictions and those who refuse a chemical test to install ignition interlock devices (IIDs).
The devices were not previously required for first and second-time offenders.
The new laws are a step in the right direction, but even tougher laws should be investigated in future legislation. Public service announcements make good television fodder, but hopefully tougher laws will have a bigger impact on keeping drunks off the roads.
To read the complete list of changes in the OWI laws scheduled for July 1 contact www.legis.state.wi.us/2009/data/acts/09Act100.