January 12, 2016|
AAA Calls on Lawmakers to Strengthen DUI Laws
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation recently announced that traffic fatalities increased by 13 percent in our state last year. While it is true that Wisconsin is not alone – 35 other states reported increases in 2015 as well – that is of little comfort to the families of the 556 people who lost their lives in tragedies that were entirely preventable.
Historically, about one third of Wisconsin’s fatal crashes are caused by drunk drivers, many of whom are repeat offenders. AAA Wisconsin’s annual survey of traffic safety issues revealed that 78 percent of the state’s residents are “very concerned” about the danger of impaired driving, and with good reason. Wisconsin is the only state in the nation where a first time offense for drunk driving is a citation, not a criminal charge, and not a week goes by without a news story featuring someone with DUI convictions approaching double digits. Wisconsin’s reputation for not taking this issue seriously is hardly unfounded.
Several bills targeting repeat offenders have been introduced during this legislative session, which ends this spring. The window of opportunity for action on this critical issue is quickly closing, and failure to act now would mean that another year will go by, with even more lives lost.
While all the OWI legislative proposals have merit, AAA Wisconsin would like to focus the attention and support of both the public and lawmakers on one in particular, which we feel will make the most impact: strengthening the state’s ignition interlock program. Assembly Bill 266 and Senate Bill 222, introduced by Representative Dave Heaton (R-Wausau) and Senator Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), would strengthen incentives for drunk driving offenders to comply with state law that requires an ignition interlock device for all repeat drunk drivers, those that refuse a sobriety field test and first time offenders with a blood alcohol content of .15 and above. This would reduce the temptation for offenders to simply driving on a suspended or revoked license, which is an epidemic problem in Wisconsin. It would also prohibit them from driving any other vehicle that does not have the interlock installed, closing a major loophole in the current law. The penalty for driving a vehicle without an interlock would be set significantly higher than the existing fine for not complying with the ignition interlock device requirement.
Ignition interlocks have been proven to significantly reduce repeat offenses, by as much as 75 percent according to some studies. They are also cost effective, as the expense for the device is paid for by the offender. Finally, they are strongly supported by DUI courts, law enforcement and the public. According to AAA’s survey, 82 percent of Wisconsin residents favor mandating interlocks for all drivers convicted of DUI.
The impact of keeping repeat drunk drivers off the roads is almost impossible to overstate. Not only does it directly reduce the potential for those offenders to cause deadly crashes, it also frees up law enforcement resources to combat other significant traffic dangers, such as distracted driving and speeding.
AAA Wisconsin joins our partners and colleagues in the law enforcement community and insurance industry, as well as other health and safety advocates in urging the legislature to take action and make Wisconsin’s roads safer in 2016. We urge you to contact your state legislator and ask them to support Representative Heaton and Senator Wanggaard's bill.
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