GREEN BAY — Two state legislators are trying to find co-sponsors for bills that would impose stricter punishments for those convicted of driving drunk. But some say more time should be spent on prevention.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 196 people died in alcohol-related crashes on Wisconsin roads in 2011; nationally, nearly 10,000.
"Wisconsin laws are not as strong as many other states," said Republican State Representative Jim Ott of Mequon.
Ott and Republican State Senator Alberta Darling of River Hills are proposing first-time offenders would be charged with a misdemeanor if their blood alcohol concentration is 0.15 percent or more. First-time offenders would also have to appear in court, even if facing a municipal fine for an OWI. Currently, they do not. And a person's third OWI would be a felony and police could seize their car.
"There's nothing in these bills that prevent a person from going out and having a good time,” explained Ott in a phone interview with FOX 11. “Whatever a person decides to drink, if they reach the point where they're impaired, my goal would be to keep them from driving."
“This is a step in the right direction," said Jan Withers, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD.
Withers says while the proposals are good, they aren't the best.
"Drunk driving should be looked upon as a crime,” said Withers in a phone interview. “Wisconsin is the only state, actually in the nation, that does not."
Ott said the laws are better today than they were in the past. But he believes these proposals will be better deterrents.
"The goal is to decrease the amount of drunk driving – which would actually decrease the number of arrests and number of convictions – and ultimately make our roads safer," said Ott.
"The recidivism rate for OWI is fairly high,” said Lt. Kevin Warych of the Green Bay Police Department.
Warych says, often times, people pulled over, suspected of an OWI already have two or three on their record.
"There are several people that are arrested for OWI, that are repeat offenders. With the current law, ignition interlock devices or sanctions imposed by the court, people still do re-offend."
"We don't condone people drinking and driving," said Barry Fitzgerald, Brown County Tavern League president.
Fitzgerald says some of the laws currently in place are fine. He says the problem lies with those who drink and drive, repeatedly.
"The laws that are in place, for first-time offenders, are certainly are adequate. We have no objection to strengthening penalties for repeat offenders and a very large amount of people who get DUIs are repeat offenders."
MADD says the only way to prevent repeat offenders from repeating is to require alcohol ignition interlock devices for all convicted drunken drivers. First-time offenders in Wisconsin will only get one of these if their BAC is 0.15 or higher.
Ott says it's too early to say who else might sponsor the bills. He hopes they will be more successful this legislative session, than the last.
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