Wisconsin has a big problem with drunk drivers. We read a lot of headlines about people who have three, four or even eight OWI convictions, but little attention is given to the first-offenses in the state. Literally. A traffic citation is given to a first-time OWI offender in Wisconsin, probably sending the wrong message and potentially resulting in those high repeat OWI numbers. In any other state, a first-time drunk driving offense is a criminal violation, and some states even require an ignition interlock requirement for those convictions.
If an ignition interlock requirement for first-time OWI offenders was the penalty in Wisconsin, there would be fewer headlines about an OWI offender with five or more convictions.
It could be the drinking culture of Wisconsin that has a strong resistance to ignition interlock devices and changing the law for first-time OWI offenses. Lawmakers have claimed there is no reason to change the OWI law, and many feel that saturation patrols and sobriety checkpoints will be easier and cheaper than changing the OWI laws. Some feel that habitual OWI offenders are the bigger problem, and the focus for drunk driving rehabilitation is treatment programs for alcohol abuse and addiction, not ignition interlock devices. It is that same drinking culture that seems to be completely okay with a first offense OWI triggering little more than a traffic citation.
Drunk driving costs Wisconsin’s taxpayers over a billion dollars each year and the state has the worst drunk driving statistics in the country. If Wisconsin law treated a first-time OWI as a criminal offense, it could open up the possibility of an ignition interlock requirement for all offenders. There is a lot of work to be done to address the problems that occur after a first offense OWI, with changing the laws and expanding ignition interlock access right at the top of that list.