Intent on making travel on the state’s more than 236,000 miles of roads safer for motorists, truckers and others, the Wisconsin Assembly has taken the first step toward toughening rules on drinking and driving in the state.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 41 percent of all traffic fatalities in the state in 2008 were alcohol-related. Mothers Against Drunk Driving cited lax drunken driving laws among the contributing factors to the state’s poor ranking.
The Assembly unanimously approved a bill that would set tougher standards for repeat offenders, impose stiffer penalties and expand treatment programs. The bill – AB283 – now moves to the Senate for further consideration.
Wisconsin is regarded as one of the most lenient states for drunken driving offenses. A first-time offense for operating while intoxicated would continue to be simply a traffic ticket.
Changes that are being pursued include making driving drunk a felony on a fourth offense instead of waiting until the fifth offense in some cases. A first-time offender would face a $300 fine only if a child under 16 is in the vehicle.
Ignition interlocks would be required for repeat offenders, as well as for first-time offenders with blood-alcohol levels of at least 0.15 percent – nearly double the legal limit of 0.08 percent. The devices would be required for one year.
Interlocks are hooked up to the ignition of vehicles. Once such a device is installed, a driver must blow into a mouthpiece, which measures the amount of alcohol on a person’s breath. If the driver blows clean, the car will then start; if not, it won’t budge.
The bill would use revenue from the state’s beer tax and liquor tax to pay for OWI offenses.
MADD says the legislation is a step in the right direction for Wisconsin in reforming its drunken driving penalties.
Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton also touted the legislative action.
“(This bill) takes a comprehensive approach to curbing this dangerous behavior by constructing new deterrents, providing substance abuse counseling to those who need it, and ensuring that sentencing decisions are guided by the smartest strategies to eliminate repeat offenses,” Lawton said in a statement.
To view other legislative activities of interest for Wisconsin in 2009, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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