Wisconsin’s Surprising Drunk Driving and Ignition Interlock Laws

ignition interlockComing to terms with an alcohol or substance abuse problem is never easy for anyone, but, imagine an entire state full of people that is noted for having the highest rate of drunk driving in the country. Wisconsin has long held the reputation of being the most lenient of U.S. states on drunk drivers, including a basic traffic violation for a first-time drunk driving offense.  Other penalties show not only a need to restrict a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle while intoxicated (OWI), but, that habitual, repeat OWI offenders are a large safety concern throughout the state.

Wisconsin drunk driving penalties include:

  • A “double threat” of a drunk driving citation and a prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC) charge, even though only one of the first-time convictions can carry any consequences for the driver.
  • Only first-time OWI offenders in Wisconsin with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 or more, or repeat OWI offenders with a BAC of .08 or higher will be ordered to install and maintain an ignition interlock device.
  • First-time offenders with a BAC of .08 – .14 may be cited with a basic traffic violation, unless a child under age 16 is present, then the OWI becomes a misdemeanor.
  • Explicit guidelines for repeat offenders, including up to seventh- or tenth-time OWI offenders, for ignition interlock installations, incarceration and felony conviction classifications.
  • Felony OWI status is attached to a fourth offense only if it happens within five years of an earlier offense.

The state of Wisconsin certainly has improved its drunk driving laws and penalties since 2009, but, there is a need to continue to strengthen the consequences of driving while intoxicated. According to a recent report by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA), from 2011-2102, Wisconsin’s alcohol-impaired traffic fatality rate increased 1.5%. which shows a continued need for stronger laws that protect residents from the dangers of drunk driving.

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