Why aren’t Wisconsin OWI offenders criminals?
In all of the 50 states, Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. that does not consider first-time drunk driving a criminal offense. First-time Wisconsin drunk drivers receive a civil traffic violation instead. Let’s put it this way: if you were caught drunk driving in Wisconsin for the first time, you wouldn’t go to jail. These lax penalties might be the root for repeated offenders as well, considering that drunk driving seems to happen very often. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WISDOT), one person on average was killed or injured in an alcohol-related incident every 2.9 hours in 2015.
A slap on the wrist for Drinking and Driving
A simple civil traffic citation is an inappropriate and very lazy response to this type of destructive driving behavior. We believe that all OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) and DUI (Drinking Under the Influence) offenders should be treated as criminals. After all, drinking and driving is a criminal act. The only time it would be treated as a misdemeanor in Wisconsin is if there’s a child under 16 years present in the car.
What are the consequences then?
For first-time OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) offenders in Wisconsin, the consequences include:
- a fine between $150 and $300
- an OWI surcharge of $435
- a driver’s license suspension between 6 and 9 months
- an assessment of alcohol and drug usage
- and depending on your BAC level, an ignition interlock device
But nowhere on this list is jail time.
What is an Ignition Interlock Device (IID)?
An IID attaches to a car’s ignition or starter and measures the amount of alcohol that’s in your body. Before you can start the car, you have to blow into a tube that will determine whether or not you have had alcohol. If there’s any alcohol present in your body, then you cannot start the car. Currently, these devices aren’t required for first-time offenders unless their BAC level is 0.15% or higher. The legal BAC level is 0.08%, so why not make it a requirement for first-time offenders whose BAC is over 0.08%?
Are Wisconsin OWI Laws too lax?
Drunk drivers in every other state are taken to jail once they’re convicted of operating while intoxicated. Wisconsin, however, treats this serious crime as if it’s just another civil citation by slapping on a fine and a short-term license suspension. According to DMV.org, Wisconsin’s first conviction penalty for OWI drivers is to educate and change the habits of the convicted driver. However, there’s nothing in the list of consequences that require these convicted drivers to educate themselves on changing their habits. Perhaps this is why there are many repeated OWI offenders in Wisconsin.
Ridiculous Wisconsin OWI Laws
You probably already know which side of the fence we’re on when it comes to changing the OWI laws, but we have good reasons! This is just a few things that we would like to see change in the current laws:
- We want first-time offenders to see jail time:
Currently, there is no jail time.
- We want all offenders to have ignition interlock devices:
They only get it if their BAC is higher than 0.15%.
- We want the minimum sentence for 5th- or 6th-time offenders to increase
The minimum right now is only 6 months.
To see the full list of OWI penalties, click here.
What’s being done?
A group in Wisconsin, Eliminate Drunk Driving Inc., is actively bringing awareness to the severity of drunk driving. One of their solutions to drunk driving issues is to make first-offense OWI a crime. This is exactly what Republican legislators Rep. Jim Ott and Sen. Alberta Darling have been trying to do for the last near decade. However, their continuing efforts seem to get bogged down every time by the lobby group, Tavern League of Wisconsin and its affiliates. The legislative bills include making first-offense OWI a crime and giving harsher penalties on repeat offenders by making the minimum sentence for 5th- or 6th-time offenders from the current 6-month sentence to an 18-month sentence in jail, which is still a very ridiculously short minimum sentence.