Beginning in July 2010, Wisconsin drivers will face higher fines, more jail time and stricter penalties for driving under the influence (DUI). Signed into law by Governor Jim Doyle on December 22, 2009, the new rules are viewed by many lawmakers as far from perfect — but a move toward strengthening Wisconsin’s drunk driving laws.
“This bill is an important step in the fight against drunk driving in Wisconsin,” Governor Doyle said. “We still have a long way to go. The bill is not everything everybody wanted, and it’s not everything I wanted. But it is a good bill and another major step forward to fight drunk driving.”
Major Changes to the Law
In revamping Wisconsin’s DUI laws and penalties, lawmakers made four major modifications:
The first is changing a first offense drunk driving charge to a misdemeanor if a child under the age of 16 is present in the car. Wisconsin is currently the only state that treats a first offense as a simple traffic ticket instead of a crime.
The second change is an increase in treatment options for drunk drivers, in an effort to reduce the number of repeat offenders.
Third is the mandate that repeat offenders have an ignition interlock device placed in their cars. The interlock is a device much like a Breathalyzer that will not allow the car to start until the driver breathes into the device, showing that there is no alcohol in the driver’s system.
Finally, the Wisconsin law that mandated that the fifth DUI offense be treated as a felony has been changed. Now, a fourth DUI conviction in five years becomes a felony.
New Laws Are Controversial
These new laws were lauded by Frank Harris of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the group’s state policy specialist. “It will put Wisconsin on the right track to becoming no longer the worst in the nation on drunken driving,” he said to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It will help save lives and reform Wisconsin’s lackadaisical laws.”
In spite of the presumed deterrent of stiffer fines, harsher penalties and widespread support from representatives of both houses, however, the final votes were not unanimous. Marlin Schneider, a Democrat from Wisconsin Rapids, was the only dissenting vote. He voted against the bill, saying the changes made were not “going to make any difference at all.”
Speak With an Attorney
No law can prevent all instances of drunk driving. In Wisconsin, over 25% of residents drove under the influence of alcohol at least once in 2007. In 2008, more than 7,000 alcohol-related crashes occurred in the state, and more than 200 people died in alcohol-related auto accidents.
If you have been injured by a drunk driver, contact an attorney to discuss your rights.