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Wisconsin’s Current Operating While Intoxicated Law

Wisconsin roads are among the most dangerous in the country, consistently in the top five (5) for alcohol related fatalities each year. Wisconsin also has some of the most lenient drunk driving laws in the nation.  A “first offense” drunk driving offense is NOT a crime and the offender is merely issued a municipal court traffic citation. The “first offense” penalty carries no risk of jail time and is simply a civil forfeiture. No matter how dangerous the “first offense” drunk driver is (e.g., driving the wrong way on a divided highway and into oncoming traffic), he/she merely faces a fine and suspension or revocation of operating privileges.  

New drunk driving laws went into effect on January 1, 2017 (2015 Senate Bill 455).  This new law makes all 4th and subsequent OWI convictions a felony. Prior to this new law, 4th offense was only a felony if committed within five years of a third offense.  Wisconsin laws continue to require judges to order ignition interlock devices for first offenders that have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .15 or more. These devices are only effective through intensive court sanctions and monitoring to ensure they are installed.  Time will tell how effective they are in Wisconsin.  A first offense becomes a misdemeanor ONLY if there is a child under 16 in the car.

These new changes are a step in the right direction, but tougher laws are still necessary. We will continue to advocate in favor of making first offense drunk driving a misdemeanor. This change would put us in line with rest of the nation. It is only through a combination of more serious sanctions, special DUI courts, treatment, awareness, and enforcement that we can truly make our roads safer and prevent the often fatal tragedies of drunk driving.

“…four out of five [81%] of these [DUI] offenders say if more serious sanctions had been applied after their first drunk driving offense they would have been more likely to change their behavior thus preventing subsequent offenses.”  - Susan Molinari, Chairman, The Century Council

Resources

Wisconsin's OWI Penalty Chart - This chart contains the penalty ranges for OWI offenses. The penalty or fine for a "first offense" drunk driving arrest varies from municipality to municipality. The typical fine amount is between $700.00  and $800.00. In addition, the first offender with a prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC) of .08 or more faces a mandatory six (6) month suspension of their operating privileges.  Offenders who refuse to submit to an evidentiary chemical test, which is typically a blood test, face a mandatory one (1) year driver's license revocation.  In addition, offenders often times must attend an alcohol or drug assessment and other programs deemed necessary by the court. Second and subsequent offenses are considered traffic crimes and additional penalties include jail or prison time.  

Stopping Hardcore Drunk Drivers – A study sponsored by the Century Council that comprises of the offender’s perspectives regarding drunk driving. Highlights include the impact of serious sanctions, ignition interlock devices, and the effectiveness of court ordered assessment and treatment.

Top Ten Strategies to Prevent Impaired Driving – A documented created by NHTSA that outlines the top ten ways to prevent impaired driving.

Drug / DUI Courts National Report Card (2008) – A document created by the National Drug Court Institute that demonstrates the effectiveness of Drug and/or DUI courts. These courts focus on holding defendants accountable and emphasize intensive treatment to address the underlying problem of addiction or substance abuse. These courts significantly reduce crime rates an average of approximately 7 to 14 percentage points.

2017 Knetzger Training, Consulting, & Publishing, LLC