Our new drunk driving law

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    Dec 26, 2009 3:51 PM GMT
    Wisconsin's new drunken driving law requires greater use of ignition interlock devices

    By Jim Collar
    Post-Crescent staff writer

    State motor vehicle records show that most drunken driving offenders ordered to use ignition interlock devices don't have them installed.

    Advocates for the devices say Wisconsin's new law on drunken driving will better assure that offenders comply with their court orders.

    A package of drunken driving reforms signed this week by Gov. Jim Doyle includes mandatory orders for ignition interlock devices for repeat drunken driving offenders and for first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 percent or greater.

    The devices require drivers to take an alcohol-free breath test before they can start their vehicles. The law, which takes effect July 1, could have Fox Valley judges ordering the devices in hundreds of more cases each year.

    Now, many skip the expense — at least $1,000 to install an interlock device — and take their chances by driving illegally.

    In 2007, the state Division of Motor Vehicles listed 4,177 interlock court orders attached to driver's license records. That year, the division's count of installed interlocks connected to occupational licenses was 607.

    In Outagamie County this year, judges ordered 166 drivers to use them.

    Proponents of the new law are confident more drivers will be on their way to auto shops to have the devices installed.

    "We feel very good about the way the law was written," said John Vose, leadership chairman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Wisconsin. "The old laws really didn't have any teeth."

    The monitoring process

    Under the old law, a driver could wait for his interlock time to pass —driving illegally in the meantime — knowing that when that time expires, he could obtain a license again.

    Under the new law, that same driver would never get a license again if he didn't have proof that an interlock was installed. The clock on an order doesn't start ticking until an offender applies for a license and officials see the paperwork.

    State Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, one of the Assembly's lead proponents for interlocks, said rules are being developed that will outline how the monitoring process takes place.

    Those convicted would be prohibited from driving any vehicles without an interlock device.

    "They'll also face more penalties," Kaufert said.

    The new law treats those who fail to get a device in the same way as those who tamper with the device. It includes fines of up to $600 and jail time of up to six months.

    Cost factors into use

    The chasm between interlock orders and installations has been a wide one, and it's an issue that's not unique to Wisconsin.

    Impact DWI, an advocacy organization in New Mexico, does an annual survey of interlock manufacturers to gauge use of the devices. This year, nine of 10 manufacturers responded. Those manufacturers reported 945 interlock devices in use in Wisconsin at the time of their responses.

    Given the high cost of the devices, convicted drivers generally weigh the risk of being caught without one against the price of following the law, said Richard Roth, executive director for Impact DWI.

    "Most offenders — 90 percent of them — will just continue to drive illegally," he said.

    The new law addresses ability to pay.

    Those beneath 150 percent of the federal poverty line would be required to pay only half of the installation and monitoring fees.

    Use would rise

    Still, some remain skeptical as to just how far the new law would boost use.

    Beyond interlock costs, any drunken driving conviction carries significant fines, Outagamie County Judge John Des Jardins said.

    "They're ruled by personal economics, which are generally in bad shape to begin with," he said.

    While the law will now force judges to issue the orders, they've already been used frequently in repeat drunken driving cases.

    Consider Outagamie County.

    Of 269 second- through fourth-time drunken driving convictions in 2009 through Dec. 18 in Outagamie County, judges ordered use of the devices in 155 of the sentences. Judges ordered them 11 of 14 sentences of those convicted on fifth or subsequent offenses this year. Orders typically range from one to three years.

    The figures suggest Outagamie would have had about 250 first-time offenders using interlock devices had the new law been in place in 2009.

    Through Dec. 18, county law enforcement agencies filed more than 500 citations for operating while intoxicated as a first offense, according to online court records.

    Making roads safer

    Wisconsin's median blood-alcohol content among people arrested for drunken driving was 0.17 percent as of a 2003 Wisconsin Department of Transportation report.

    Advocates say any boost in ignition interlock use will contribute to safer roads in Wisconsin.

    When they're used, they're effective.

    Greg Mueller, Wisconsin program manager for National Interlock Service, said the immediate feedback of a car that doesn't start is a bit of a shock to chronic offenders.

    "It's a cold slap in the face," he said.

    Roth said the devices monitor behavior when no one else would be there to take the keys.

    In New Mexico, re-arrest rates are 75 percent fewer among those with interlock devices than offenders that don't have the devices. There, alcohol-related crashes causing injury or fatality fell 39 percent and 35 percent, respectively, since the state toughened its interlock law in 2002, according to Impact DWI.

    Roth calls ignition interlocks "electronic probation officers" and "trigger locks on 2,000-pound weapons."

    Wisconsin state Rep. Tom Nelson, D-Kaukauna, said the interlock changes are an important component to a multifaceted law that addresses punishment, prevention and treatment.

    State Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton, said as far as interlocks go, it's about prevention far more than any punitive effect it would have on those convicted of drunken driving.

    "They find out the hard way," Bernard Schaber said of offenders' behavior. "We have to stop those people from getting in their cars and driving."
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    Dec 26, 2009 4:43 PM GMT
    Legislatively mandated sentences, that don't allow any range in the sentence, are usurping the power of the court to "best fit" the punishment to the criminal. I believe in "ranges" of punishment for offenders, depending on the circumstances of the person and the offense. For example: a $2500 fine to the average college student is a much harsher penalty than the same $2500 fine to a mufti-millionaire for the same offense. I support getting drunk drivers off the road and making the road safer. However, I believe that our legislatures are again behind the times and need to address the "distracted driver" phenomenon...ie, texting, phone use, eating, reading , putting on makeup, smoking, changing CD's or messing with the GPS, or whatever, while driving. This has been called the new "drunk driving" problem on the road...and yet most states have not addressed this issue. Technological fixes for human failings rarely achieve the desired or expected results, except to make someone poorer and someone richer. Treatment and therapy should be a component of the mandated sentence, since this legislative approach is apparently here to stay. Welcome to one size fits all.....
  • dannyboy1101

    Posts: 977

    Dec 26, 2009 4:58 PM GMT
    If a drunk driver wants to drive, he'll drive. Plenty of individuals with the device installed just ask a friend to do the breathalizer for them to start their car and go on their merry way.

    I oftentimes thought it would be good for bars to be given breathalizer devices for anyone to use because who here knows what .08 versus .10 versus .05 feels like. However, some people are fully functional at those levels. Some people are wasted out of their minds at .04 and can be arrested justifiably but then why do we put numbers on it if the numbers can be ignored one way and not the other? A lot of the drunk driving laws are based in good intentions, but I feel they need an overhaul and to get some more ideas in the tank.

    Perhaps after you drive drunk once they give you a different colored ID that indicates alcohol is now illegal for you to drink at any time for an extended period of time or else you suffer the consequences that a found heroin addict would endure. You drive drunk once, you turn back into a 20 year old. Cause problems again you turn into a 15 year old (no driving). I don't know if that would make it seem more serious to people, just some thoughts.
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    Dec 26, 2009 5:10 PM GMT
    It seems to make sense. Preventing drunks from driving in the first place seems like a better deterrent that "if you get caught you will be fined or go to jail"
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    Dec 26, 2009 7:22 PM GMT
    Sporty_g saidLegislatively mandated sentences, that don't allow any range in the sentence, are usurping the power of the court to "best fit" the punishment to the criminal. I believe in "ranges" of punishment for offenders, depending on the circumstances of the person and the offense. For example: a $2500 fine to the average college student is a much harsher penalty than the same $2500 fine to a mufti-millionaire for the same offense. I support getting drunk drivers off the road and making the road safer. However, I believe that our legislatures are again behind the times and need to address the "distracted driver" phenomenon...ie, texting, phone use, eating, reading , putting on makeup, smoking, changing CD's or messing with the GPS, or whatever, while driving. This has been called the new "drunk driving" problem on the road...and yet most states have not addressed this issue. Technological fixes for human failings rarely achieve the desired or expected results, except to make someone poorer and someone richer. Treatment and therapy should be a component of the mandated sentence, since this legislative approach is apparently here to stay. Welcome to one size fits all.....


    If you read the article, we aren't really increasing the fine so much, except the cost incured for mandating the installation of interlock devices. But what we are doing is preventing drunk drivers from starting their cars lol because if their blood alcohol level is over the limit, their car will not start with these interlocking devices installed on their car.

    I think it's a terrific idea and enforcing those convicted of drunk driving to install these devices on their car will prevent them from getting on the road while drunk and it will create jobs for people who help makes these devices and installing them. It';s a win win sitiuation for everyone.
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    Dec 26, 2009 7:33 PM GMT
    dannyboy1101 saidIf a drunk driver wants to drive, he'll drive. Plenty of individuals with the device installed just ask a friend to do the breathalizer for them to start their car and go on their merry way.

    I oftentimes thought it would be good for bars to be given breathalizer devices for anyone to use because who here knows what .08 versus .10 versus .05 feels like. However, some people are fully functional at those levels. Some people are wasted out of their minds at .04 and can be arrested justifiably but then why do we put numbers on it if the numbers can be ignored one way and not the other? A lot of the drunk driving laws are based in good intentions, but I feel they need an overhaul and to get some more ideas in the tank.

    Perhaps after you drive drunk once they give you a different colored ID that indicates alcohol is now illegal for you to drink at any time for an extended period of time or else you suffer the consequences that a found heroin addict would endure. You drive drunk once, you turn back into a 20 year old. Cause problems again you turn into a 15 year old (no driving). I don't know if that would make it seem more serious to people, just some thoughts.


    A friend, if he is a friend at all, is not going to do this for his friend because not only does he know that by doing this he may kill his friend and others in an accident, but he himself could be charged with homicide for doing this, if he did have an accident and killed himself or others.

    These devices have helped stop drunk drivers from starting their car, if the device was installed. But a lot of people were not installing the devices and taking the risk that they wouldn't get stopped or caught. But with this new law , they will not be able to avoid not installing these devices.
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    Dec 26, 2009 7:43 PM GMT
    The devices are expensive to install too and making drunk drivers install them is like a fine and it makes it a pain to start your car because every time you want to start your car you got to blow into the breathanlayizer. They will soon want to get rid of the thing i n their car after their sentence and won;t ever want another one installed. It is a deterrent to drving drunk. Ask my friend. icon_smile.gif He can't wait until he can tear the damn device out of his car. icon_smile.gif It is an inconvience more than anything and it does reform the habitual drunk driver . I think it's great.
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    Dec 26, 2009 7:46 PM GMT
    Sometimes his car won't start even when he is not drunk. lol He hates the damn thing and says he'll never drive drunk again. icon_smile.gif
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    Dec 26, 2009 7:59 PM GMT
    People will always find a way around the law(s). I recently watched an episode of Intervention where the woman had her kid blow into it for her.

    Texas has one of the highest drunk driving rates in the nation, instead of cracking down, (check points are illegal) we raise the fines in order to finance our Level 1 trauma centers…Welcome to the Republic.
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    Dec 26, 2009 11:11 PM GMT
    I'm in principle in favor of this --- drunk driving is a terrible problem in the US --- but I don't have much faith in the technology -- it's easily circumvented.

    I suspect that a comprehensive mandatory and well-delivered education program would have more effect.

    The UK had a very memorable, hard-hitting programme of government adverts that are credited as partially responsible for reducing DUI-related deaths [I do not have a good case to say they really were responsible for the reduction].

    The most effective way to reduce alcohol related deaths is to raise the price of alcohol. Not popular, but perhaps necessary?

    Additionally, in many American cities there is no public-transport option to take one back from the bars. Providing safe alternatives might really help.