Keep drive alive to curb DUI

2013-02-05T05:00:00Z Keep drive alive to curb DUIWisconsin State Journal editorial
February 05, 2013 5:00 am  • 

Rep. Jim Ott just asked an important question.

"We continue to have so many outrageous crashes in Wisconsin," the Mequon Republican told the Associated Press. "Do we just sit back and say, 'We have to live with this,' or are we going to try to do something?"

We are going to try to do something.

And the latest proposal by Ott and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, is a good place to start, though it doesn't come close to doing enough.

The two lawmakers want to get tougher on first-time and repeat offenders.

Wisconsin is the only state in the nation that treats a first offense for DUI as a civil violation, similar to a traffic ticket. Ott and Darling would require all first-time offenders to appear in court, and those with blood alcohol levels of 0.15 percent — nearly twice the legal limit — or higher would be charged with a misdemeanor.

Third-time offenders would face a felony charge, and judges could order police to seize offenders' vehicles. Drunken drivers who injure or kill people could face mandatory minimum sentences.

Tougher penalties make sense. But so does more treatment for people who abuse alcohol. Special courts dealing exclusively with drunken drivers have shown some promise in preventing further offenses. So have devices that prevent cars from being driven if the driver is drunk.

All of that requires money, which should come from a modest increase in Wisconsin's teensy tax on beer and other alcohol. Drinkers wouldn't even notice the few extra pennies they'd be charged. And the benefits of a slightly higher beer tax would be safer roads for all.

If state lawmakers can't swallow that, then they should find the money elsewhere in the state budget. Drunken driving should be a priority in the coming legislative session.

Incremental improvements have been made in recent years. But much more is needed to address Wisconsin's drunken driving scourge.

Everyone should answer Ott's question the same way: Yes, we are going to do something to stop the endless string of deadly crashes. Yes, we are going to do more to change Wisconsin's heavy drinking culture. Yes, we are going to get the worst repeat offenders off the roads for good.

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(7) Comments

  1. mouser
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    mouser - February 07, 2013 11:02 pm
    I'm in total agreement about raising the tax on the liquor in this state right across the board whether it be beer, wine or other spirits. This money should be used for the DUI/OWI programs that we need and supplement the overtime that police agencies put in when there is a big wreck at shift changes. These officers are stuck at the scene until it's cleared and the somebody has to pay the overtime - why not the person that bought the booze in the first place that caused the problem? Then maybe your property taxes might take a dip down. It's only a fair situation as far as I see it. A number of years ago, cigarettes got taxed by a dollar a pack more if I remember right and that is 10 dollars more a carton. So do the same thing to a 12 pack of beer, and see what happens! As far as I am concerned driving with .08 or more and getting picked up even your 1st offense should be a criminal traffic offense not a misdemeanor, which to me is equal to disorderly conduct. Plain and simple it's against the law and not to be done. Call somebody to come and get you!
  2. wcg101
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    wcg101 - February 06, 2013 7:36 am
    I like the idea of an increased beer tax, call it a road use tax, drunk drivers are using our roads extensively.
  3. smdevos
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    smdevos - February 05, 2013 4:38 pm
    Another way to reduce DUI would be to make alternatives more appealing. Some areas already have a program in which a bartender can phone for a cab. Having vans or minibuses as shuttles could also be reasonable in some places, as could extending the operating hours of certain bus lines.
  4. Report Abuse
    - February 05, 2013 2:55 pm
    Higher penalties can and should be a more effective deterrent. I would agree that a first offense does not need to be that much harsher. Yes I agree, even the first mistake can be fatal, but anyone can make a mistake and hopefully it is a wake-up call and leads to changed behavior. Especially if they know the 2nd and 3rd offenses get Really serious, Really fast. The biggest problem I see are the repeat offenders, and the people who are Not even getting caught. Higher fines for 2nd, 3rd, etc offenses could be used for more enforcement and preventative programs.
    Report Abuse
    LSTWRD - February 05, 2013 8:40 am
    I am pleased that our legislators and senators are taking a stand against drunk driving in Wisconsin. I am especially in favor of instituting minimum sentences in fatal drunk driving crashes because my father, Darwin Hoefert Sr. was killed by a drunk driver on May 14, 2011. The day I found out about his death lives forever in my memory, as does April 4, 2012 when the defendant was charged with one year in jail with Huber privileges because it was his first "mistake".

    I am saddened by Jenny Hannert's response in an article written by Judy Keen. Hannert says criminalizing first offenses would go too far. "Anybody," she says, "can make one mistake."

    Perhaps she has not lost a loved one to drunk driving and does not understand that one mistake is sometimes too many. I do not wish her to experience this loss so I encourage others to call your legislators and senators to support Jim Ott and Alberta Darling. They are standing up for all those who can no longer stand up for themselves.

    Dawn Johnson
    Deerfield, Wisconsin
  6. Whazzat
    Report Abuse
    Whazzat - February 05, 2013 7:51 am
    Victor Zeller - the penalties that you suggest for 1st, 2nd and 3rd offense DUI are fairly close to what currently exist in Colorado. The major difference is that Colorado does not have a drunk driving problem. Everyone there knows the consequences are serious so a night of partying always includes a designated driver or cab rides. It's not rocket science, it's just common sense. But as we know, common sense isn't all that common.
  7. Victor Zeller
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    Victor Zeller - February 05, 2013 7:12 am
    If they were actually serious about the OWI/DUI situation they would raise the beer tax. The tax on beer hasn't been raised since 1969. I propose they raise it a dollar a bottle and can. Then that money can be used for road construction, enforcing the DUI/OWI laws, and putting DUI/OWI stops around the state. It is time to get all the drunks off the roads.
    Put some teeth into the laws. First offense $1000 fine, loss of DL for 6 months. Second offense $2000 fine, loss of DL for one year. Third offense. $5000 fine, loss of DL for life. Hurt or kill someone while driving drunk. Mandatory jail time minmum 10 years, $10000 fine and loss of DL for life.

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