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MADD report says Wisconsin's drunk driving laws are weak

Every year, the group Mothers Against Drunk Driving puts out a report that rates each state on how well it addresses drunk driving. Specifically, states are rated on five criteria MADD considers to be critical to reducing drunk driving. These include things like whether states have sobriety checkpoints, “no refusal” events and child endangerment laws that increase penalties for driving drunk with a child in the car.

With just two out of five stars, Wisconsin had one of the lowest grades in the nation. In assigning this low grade, MADD also pointed out that Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. that does not treat a first-time drunk driving offense as a crime. The group suggested that Wisconsin could improve its rating, in part, by treating a first offense as a misdemeanor and by requiring ignition interlock devices for anyone convicted of operating while intoxicated.

For those who don’t know, an ignition interlock device is essentially a breathalyzer test wired directly into one’s vehicle. The driver must pass a breath-alcohol test in order for the car to start. MADD suggested that IIDs should become mandatory for all drunk driving offenders, including first-time offenders.

But would this significantly reduce drunk-driving accidents and fatalities? According to the report, "conservative estimates show that a first-time convicted OWI offender has driven drunk at least 80 times prior to being arrested. . . According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, a majority of drunk driving deaths and injuries are caused by drunk driving offenders with no prior convictions.”

If the above statistics are true (and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has said they are), IIDs for convicted offenders would seemingly do little to lower the rate of drunk driving fatalities and injuries. Most of these crashes are apparently caused by drunk drivers with no prior OWI convictions. Data that MADD cited in the report seemingly weakens its argument for IIDs rather than strengthening it.

Despite how Wisconsin ranks nationally, OWI charges are nothing to shrug off. Individuals charged with drunk driving face serious consequences. As such, most may wish to seek the help of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "MADD says most drunken-driving deaths caused by first-time offenders," Feb. 11, 2014 

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