Proposed bill would toughen Wisconsin’s Ignition Interlock laws

A group of Wisconsin lawmakers is hoping to make the state's already harsh drunk driving laws even stricter. Specifically, a bill has been introduced in the Wisconsin Assembly that seeks to make it a criminal offense for a driver to operate any motor vehicle not equipped with an Ignition Interlock Device (IID) if, following a drunk driving conviction, the driver is subject to IID driving restrictions.

Importantly, these proposed criminal penalties are not only significantly tougher than current law, but they would apply even if the car does not belong to the alleged offender. Essentially, this legislation would link IID restrictions to the individual driver and not to the vehicles he or she owns.

Evolution of Ignition Interlock laws in Wisconsin

An IID is a piece of equipment that prevents drivers from starting their vehicles unless they are able to blow into the device and prove they are sober.

Under current Wisconsin law, a court may restrict your driving privileges so that you can only drive vehicles equipped with IIDs if you:

  • Are convicted of operating a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI) with a blood-alcohol-concentration of .15 percent or higher
  • Are convicted of a second or subsequent OWI offense
  • Refuse to take a breathalyzer test or other chemical test
  • Injure or kill another person while committing an OWI

While there are severe penalties under current law if you fail to install an IID on your vehicle or otherwise tamper with its operation, you will likely only face a traffic citation - as opposed to a criminal offense - if you are found driving another person's car that is not equipped with an IID. Under the recently proposed legislation, otherwise known as Assembly Bill 266, this would change dramatically.

If passed, AB266 would impose criminal penalties on drivers subject to IID restrictions if they are caught operating any vehicle not equipped with an IID, including vehicles owned by someone else. Under the language of the bill, a driver could be punished as follows:

  • First conviction: Jail time of up to six months and a fine ranging from $500 to $1,200
  • Second or subsequent conviction: Jail time of up to six months and a fine ranging from $600 to $2,000

Keep in mind, these penalties would apply even if the driver were completely sober. In fact, simply getting behind the wheel of an unequipped vehicle would likely be enough.

Legal representation is always a good idea

While it remains to be seen whether AB266 will ever become law, the proposed legislation does illustrate just how serious drunk driving laws in Wisconsin can be. If you have been charged with OWI, you need to speak to an experienced lawyer as soon as possible. Attorney Stephen Govin can explain your legal options and help defend your rights. Contact him today.