Raising concerns and pushing for change, the Mothers Against Drunk Driving have given Wisconsin a failing grade in regards to drunken driving prevention, giving the state a mere two out of five stars.
With 200 drunken driving deaths, 33,579 arrests and 8,088 five-time offenders, Wisconsin is ranked third in the country for operating while intoxicated issues, according to the report.
The report said the state fails to meet three standards set by MADD – the lack of sobriety police checkpoints, no requirement for ignition interlock systems for previous offenders and the fact that it is still legal for an individual to refuse a chemical sobriety test.
Wisconsin is the only state that has a law prohibiting sobriety checkpoints and the only state where a first offense DUI is only a traffic violation, as opposed to a crime, according to the report.
A Center for Disease Control study showed that using checkpoints can reduce alcohol related crashes and fatalities by 18 to 24 percent. Previous legislative attempts at implementing sobriety checkpoints in Wisconsin have failed.
Ignition interlock systems have proven to be very effective too, MADD Wisconsin spokesperson, John Vose, said.
“What doesn’t work is taking away people’s cars and licenses. If someone needs to drive, say for their job, they will with or without a license,” Vose said. “The only way to make sure someone doesn’t get behind the wheel when they’ve been drinking is the ignition lock systems.”
Rep. Jon Richards, D-Milwaukee, who is running for attorney general, introduced a bill earlier this month which would require any individual pulled over for drunken driving to have an ignition lock system installed in their automobiles, regardless of their blood alcohol content upon arrest.
Ignition lock systems generally require the driver to pass a breathalyzer test before their car will start and are required in most states for all people convicted of a drunken driving offense.
Wisconsin only requires them for some repeat offenders, according to the report.
Vose said some critics argue the system can be avoided by having someone else take the breathalyzer in place of the driver, but he said new technologies have made the systems difficult to dupe.
“There are a lot of myths out there about ignition interlock systems that, unfortunately, a lot of legislators buy into,” Vose said. “If these systems are so flawed then why are they so effective in stopping drunken driving in states that require them after the first offense?”
Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, proposed a package of bills last year aimed at cracking down on drunk drivers. Two of the six proposed bills have already passed the Assembly, but have not been taken up in the Senate.
One of the bills that passed the Assembly would make driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or greater a crime as opposed to merely a civil violation. The other requires that first time offenders to show up in court so they can either plead guilty, not guilty or no contest.
“The main reason [for the bills], in a nutshell, is to provide a deterrence to bad behavior,” Ott told The Badger Herald when he introduced the bills in March. “The thinking is if you increase the penalties for wrongdoing, it should decrease the amount of wrongdoing.”
Lt. Carl Strasburg of the Madison Police Department, said in an email to The Badger Herald that MPD thinks changing this law would help to enforce the laws.
“MPD does support making first offense drunken driving, or driving under the influence a crime/misdemeanor,” Strasburg said.