Wisconsin’s drunken driving problem needs no introduction. With some of the most relaxed OWI laws in the United States, the state could certainly take a more proactive approach to drunken driving, particularly when the risks for such behavior are so high. However, as per usual, Wisconsin’s elected officials — in particular Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen — are rendering the implementation of common sense solutions to the issue unnecessarily difficult.
Van Hollen, along with certain Wisconsin legislators, opposes making first-offense drunken driving a crime. Wisconsin is currently the only state in the country that does not treat such offenses as crimes.
What is particularly striking, however, is Van Hollen’s rationale for opposing the measure. “There are a great number of people — people I know personally — who have first offenses. I don’t consider them criminals, and I wouldn’t want them to be tagged that way for the rest of their lives for having made what can legitimately be called a mistake,” Van Hollen said.
Van Hollen’s choice of personal relationships should play no role in his opposition to a measure that is utilized by 49 other states to combat the pervasive problem of drunken driving. Almost any offense can legitimately be called a mistake, and in no way makes it excusable, especially in the eyes of one of the state’s highest legal authorities.
We do agree with Van Hollen, however, that sobriety checkpoints are not a solution to the drunken driving problem. These checkpoints, which allow officers to stop motorists at designated locations, create a potential misallocation of police resources and may constitute an infringement on civil liberties. Still, we are not optimistic that his approach to the problem is anywhere near sufficient.
Drunken driving in Wisconsin needs to be controlled. Van Hollen cannot allow his personal anecdotes from friends to work against the common good of the state of Wisconsin. If he continues to act willfully ignorant towards the issue, the state of Wisconsin will be the losing party.