Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Drunk Driving Puts Our State To Shame

Statistics say that more than 25% of the drivers in Wisconsin have driven drunk in the last year, making us the worst in the nation.

I noted a little while ago on this blog that Wisconsin still treats an offender's first Operating While Intoxicated arrest as a civil, not criminal matter, meaning a fine, license suspension and alcohol assessment.

That sends the very mixed message that drunk driving is wrong...but isn't a criminal problem until you're caught a second time and become a repeat offender.

And since police officers know it is highly unlikely that a first offender's arrest is not that motorists's first episode of drink driving, how many more instances of OWI will that driver will commit between arrest number one and arrest number two - - all the while putting motorists, passengers and pedestrians at risk?

Denial...thy name is official policy.

So it was surprising this year when the state announced its annual "get tough" patrolling on St. Patrick's Day, that it added the odd note that there wouldn't be any warnings issued that day.


For OWI?

Say what?

That casual attitude is reflected in the national rating. It's a category that no state wants to lead.

We should get tougher on drunks that endanger the public with their cavalier and reckless attitude - - an attitude mirrored in the state's absurdly reckless and cavalier official approach to drunken driving enforcement.

Same thing goes for college town officials and their tavern owners and academic leaders.

They have for too long tolerated the state's legendary binge drinking, leading to repeat drownings in LaCrosse, regular Friday night bar closing fights in Madison, illegal keg and cup beer sales in student houses disrupting UW-Madison and Milwaukee neighborhoods, and daily loss in workplace productivity for everything ranging from hangovers to chronic disease.

Granted there is an educational component that needs to be provided in families and communities by parents, media and schools to turn the Wisconsin culture away from its distorted emphasis on alcohol use that begins early in life and stays late.

But because they endanger the rest of us, the party should be over for motorists through "no-warning," zero-tolerance law enforcement and justice system consequences.

And if we don't face the problem squarely, with the focus and vigor suggested recently by Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, then shame on us.

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