Tuesday, July 3, 2012

WI Needs Non-Partisan Push For Tougher OWI Penalties In Lax Wisconsin

I have been campaigning for years through blogs and freelance pieces for toughened drunk driving laws in Wisconsin.

So as we head into a mid-week holiday where motorists will be tempted to drink and drive, I will be glad to promote stronger laws proposed by Republicans State Rep. Jim Ott and State Sen. Albert Darling, and by the Milwaukee Sheriff, David Clarke, as outlined in this Journal Sentinel story.

Darling wants to make felony charges available to prosecutors more quickly for repeat Wisconsin OWI offenders, and Clarke wants Wisconsin to join all other states in criminalizing a first offense.

The reformers also want more treatment, and I'm completely on board with that, too. It's obviously a long, hard slog and sell in Wisconsin, and good ideas need support even if the pace of change is slow.

More than four years ago I had this to say:

Let's make a first OWI a misdemeanor instead of a ticket, and move a second OWI from misdemeanor to felony - - and add mandatory vehicle seizure for a repeat offender, too.

I think having to watch your vehicle confiscated, sold or compacted before your eyes would be a stiff inducement to help put a repeat offender into serious rehab, and serve as a definite deterrent to others still disinterested in driving while sober.

And let the state auction off the seized vehicles to finance better law enforcement against drunk driving, from new equipment to overtime for sobriety checkpoints near known, problem taverns or on holidays.
In 2009, I wrote:
The legislature is going to have to a do a great deal more than OK some ignition locks for some OWI offenders to make a dent in the state's drunken-driving culture.

Until Wisconsin joins the other 49 states and criminalizes a first-offense, everything else is window-dressing.

Also needed: making a second offense a felony, and providing widespread drunk-driving education and treatment.
And in 2011, when the Legislature caved to special interests, I wrote:
Another effort is underway to put Wisconsin in line with the other 49 states and make first-offense drunk driving more than the mere ticket it is now.

I've lost track of the number of times I have argued for this on my blog for years.

I find it unlikely that the Legislature and Governor have the spine to take on the state's brewing, tavern and "hospitality" lobbies.

Note that pilots may not fly within eight hours of consuming any alcohol. Reflex impairment after imbibing is a well-known reality.

Make this a bi-partisan and non-partisan effort. Let's slam the door on the lobbyists, get drunk drivers off the roads, protect the public and help problem drinkers repair their lives.


I like to drink and drive said...

The tavern lobby has every Republicon shaking in their boots over this.

Anonymous said...

Enough of this obscene insanity of making more people criminals, enough of crucifying people for the rest of their lives. Why don't you just execute people on sight if they drive a vehicle while drinking, eating texting, talking on a cell phone, talking to another person, listening to the radio etcetera.

James Rowen said...

To Anony, 10:50 AM: Bit of an over-reaction, don't you think?

Why defend driving under the influence?

Anonymous said...

No body is defending driving under the influence, it is simply a fact that other types of impaired driving , such as texting, now outweigh drinking as a safety threat. You may feel some level of "moral superiority" by targeting one group over another, but you are missing some other, more important, issues.


@anon: so- what is your solution to a repeat offered who kills an entire family after having a few cocktails after work? I agree, crucifcation is a little harsh but some serious jail time might be in order regardless of how much they can afford to pay a defense lawyer to save their sorry life from incarceration.

James Rowen said...

To Anony. 5:52: All distracted driving is dangerous and worthy of criticism and legal reform to fight it - - as has happened with outlawing texting while driving, for example.

Can you cite data that shows these other types of distracted driving "now outweigh drinking as a safety threat," if threat is translated into accidents, injuries and deaths?


Hear ya go-makes me wonder if crucifixion is applicable to both offenses. Though additiinal flogging may be in order for the drunk texter.

Texting Is More Dangerous Than Driving Drunk

There have been studies that compare text messaging on cellphones and other hand-held devices to driving drunk. And several states have already banned texting while driving. But according to Car and Driver, no one has done a real-world test — until now.

In an article that appears in the current issue of the magazine, the editors hooked up a Honda Pilot with a red light on the windshield. Car & Driver’s editor and chief, Eddie Alterman, 37, and the magazine’s intern, Jordan Brown, 22, both took turns behind the wheel on a test track. When the light came on, the drivers hit the brakes.

From Car and Driver:

First, we tested both drivers’ reaction times at 35 m.p.h. and 70 m.p.h. to get baseline readings. Then we repeated the driving procedure while they read a text message aloud (a series of Caddyshack quotes). This was followed by a trial with the drivers typing the same message they had just received. Both of our lab rats were instructed to use their phones exactly as they would on a public road, which, if Jordan’s mom or Eddie’s wife are reading this, they never do.

Our test subjects then got out of the vehicle and concentrated on getting slightly intoxicated. They wanted something that would work quickly: screwdrivers (vodka and orange juice). Between the two of them, they knocked back all but three ounces of a fifth of Smirnoff. Soon they were laughing at all our jokes, asking for cigarettes, and telling us about some previous time they got drunk that was totally awesome. We had them blow into a Lifeloc FC10 breath-alcohol analyzer until they reached the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content. We then put them behind the wheel and ran the light-and-brake test without any texting distraction.

Car and Driver performed each test five times, dropping the slowest time. The magazine found that reaction time was much worse for both drivers when they were texting while driving than when they were under the influence of alcohol.

At 35 miles an hour, Mr. Alterman’s average reaction time was .57 seconds, but while texting it rose to 1.36 seconds, more than twice his average reaction time of .64 seconds while under the influence. Mr. Brown fared better, but his average reaction time of .45 seconds rose to .52 seconds while texting, worse than his average time of .46 seconds while driving drunk.

The results of the tests at 70 miles an hour were better in terms of reaction times. But at highway speeds, the extra distance traveled before coming to a complete stop was much greater. For example, Mr. Alterman traveled an average of four feet farther while driving drunk and an average of 70 feet farther while texting.

“The prognosis doesn’t improve when you look at the limitations of our test,” writes Mike Austin, the author of the Car and Driver article. “We were using a straight road without any traffic, road signals, or pedestrians, and we were only looking at reaction times.”