Wisconsin lawmakers attempting to stiffen drunk driving laws

While tougher laws are popular, critics say money is better spent on treatment

State legislators are looking into ways they can toughen Wisconsin's OWI laws, which the Badger Herald claims are currently less strict in comparison with other states' laws. Changes that are being looked into are stricter punishments for first offenders as well as ways authorities can conduct sobriety checkpoints. Although the proposals have broad popular support, critics say the changes would be unlikely to lead to a decrease in drunk driving rates and that taxpayer dollars would be better spent on treatment programs.

Tougher laws needed?

Wisconsin is currently the only state that does not consider a first OWI conviction a criminal offense, except in certain circumstances, such as when a passenger is under the age of 16 or an accident leads to injury. Multiple offenses, however, can result in a criminal record, jail time, license suspensions, and the installation of an ignition interlock device.

Additionally, the state currently does not allow sobriety checkpoints, which advocates say are an important tool used by police in other states to discourage drunk driving.

Harsh penalties questioned

As a result, a number of lawmakers are exploring ways of stiffening the state's OWI laws, including allowing municipalities to conduct their own sobriety checkpoints, according to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Other possibilities include tougher penalties for first offenders.

Critics, however, say there is little evidence that tougher laws actually help to reduce drunk driving rates. They note that alcohol-related accidents in Wisconsin have actually decreased in recent years even in the absence of the laws that others say the state needs. Those critics say that simply locking people away in jail does not address any of the addiction problems such offenders may have. Rather, they want to see tax dollars spent on programs that go to the root problems of drunk driving, such as better addiction treatment as well as a continued effort to educate the public about the dangers of impaired driving.

OWI defense

While some may claim that Wisconsin's laws against drinking and driving are relatively light, they still need to be taken extremely serious by anybody facing an OWI charge. Particularly for repeat offenders, an OWI conviction can have very severe consequences, including jail time and driving restrictions.

As such, anybody who has been charged with an OWI should reach out to criminal defense attorney Stephen M. Govin as soon as possible. An experienced attorney can help clients learn about what legal options may be available in either fighting a charge or helping to ensure that a sentence is not unnecessarily harsh.