An Effort to Strengthen Wisconsin's Drunk Driving Laws

By: Rachelle Baillon Email
By: Rachelle Baillon Email

Thursday, May 2, 2013--7:15p.m.
MADISON--"He hit my dad in the ditch, on the other side of the road right in the corner, so there was really no way.....he could have been saved," said Dawn Johnson, describing the crash with a drunk driver that killed her dad nearly two years ago. "He ended up hitting three road signs, he was so drunk," she said. "He was about three times the legal limit."

The driver was coming from a gun club so close to his home, he could have walked. Instead, he chose to drive--killing Johnson's 68-year-old father along the way. For that decision, he earned all of one year in jail, with work release. "Unfortunately in Wisconsin there's no minimum sentence," said Johnson. "So in reality the judge can just let you walk away if he doesn't feel or she doesn't feel a sentence is required."

"Over the last ten years we've had about an average of 200 people a year killed on the roads in Wisconsin in drunk driving crashes," said State Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon. "I realize it's a complicated problem, I certainly don't think that tougher drunk driving laws are going to solve the problem, but maybe it's one part of the answer."

Rep. Ott and State Senator Alberta Darling are introducing a series of six bills this legislative session, aimed at cracking down on the state's drunk driving problem. "We'll take them one at a time and we'll get done as many as we can get done," he said.

The short summary is this: One bill would criminalize a first offense for anyone with a blood alcohol concentration of .15 or above. Another would make a third offense a felony, meaning that it could be punished by more than a year in prison. A third bill requires all first time offenders to actually show-up in court. A fourth allows judges to seize your car if you get three or more convictions.
And the remaining two set mandatory minimums, including at least ten years in prison for anyone guilty of homicide by OWI.

A mandatory minimum is something Johnson supports--and hopes to see happen. "We want it to be a consequence, not a punishment," she said. "We want to deter people from doing this, so if they know that there are consequences for your actions then maybe they'll choose not to drink and drive."

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