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As I See It

Wisconsin takes only baby steps to tackle drunk driving



With great fanfare, Governor Scott Walker signed into law this week a bill designed to toughen the state’s stance on drunken driving. The change makes a fourth-offense drunk driving charge a felony. Previously, a fourth-offense OWI was only a felony if the most previous offense happened within the past five years. Walker says when signing the bill he hopes this will help reduce OWI related deaths in Wisconsin. We hope so too. But the state continues to take baby steps when it comes to really putting some teeth into the state’s drunken driving laws. Wisconsin remains the only state in the nation where first offense drunk driving is not considered a crime. It remains largely the equivalent of a traffic ticket. OWI is a serious offense, even if our laws do not treat it as such. There is much more the state could do to show it is really serious about stopping people from driving while intoxicated. Penalties for doing so remain a joke. Even those who drive drunk for a sixth time face no more than five years behind bars. A ninth OWI offense leads to no more than a possible 7.5 years in prison. Few are ever sentenced to the maximum sentence. Wisconsin lawmakers could show they are serious about curtailing drunken driving by, for example, requiring those caught drunk driving to install interlock devices on their cars. And they could mandate treatment programs for repeat drunk drivers, to focus on the cause of the problem, not the symptom. Wisconsin lawmakers may be patting themselves on the back for claiming they are getting tough on drunk drivers, but the reality is when compared to other states, Wisconsin continues to provide little more than a slap on the wrist.

Scott Robert Shaw serves as WIZM Program Director and News Director, and delivers the morning news on WKTY, Z-93 and 95.7 The Rock. Scott has been at Mid-West Family La Crosse since 1989, and authors Wisconsin's only daily radio editorial, "As I See It" heard on WIZM each weekday morning and afternoon.

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