New Wisconsin law targets drunken drivers

| 12/28/2009

While there is often debate about how to make traveling safer, there is little argument that reducing incidences of drunken driving would greatly improve safety on roadways.

Intent on making travel on Wisconsin’s more than 236,000 miles of roads safer for motorists, truckers and others, Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill into law toughening rules on drinking and driving. It takes effect July 1, 2010.

Wisconsin has the highest rate of drunken driving in the nation. According to state figures, alcohol-related crashes killed 234 people in 2008, and injured more than 4,000 people. Mothers Against Drunk Driving has cited lax drunken driving laws among the contributing factors.

While there are complaints the new law doesn’t do enough to help curb drunken driving, the governor said it is an important first step.

“The bill is not everything everybody wanted … But it is a good bill and another major step forward to fight drunk driving,” Doyle said in a statement.

Previously SB66, the new law is an effort to overhaul the state’s drunken driving rules. Assembly and Senate lawmakers met in special session early this month to work out slight differences in the bill.

They agreed to help cover some of the costs associated with the stricter enforcement with increased fees on offenders.

Driving drunk will be a felony on a fourth offense within five years instead of waiting until the fifth offense in some cases. A first-time offender will face a $300 fine only if a child under 16 is in the vehicle.

Ignition interlocks will be required for repeat offenders, as well as first-time offenders with blood-alcohol levels of at least 0.15 percent – nearly double the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

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.

In addition, second- and third-time offenders could reduce their time behind bars by completing drug and alcohol treatment.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Wisconsin, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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