Drunk driving reform protects kids, more work to be done

Today, Governor Doyle signed into law historic drunk-driving legislation, Senate Bill 66. Before passing the bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Tony Staskunas (D-West Allis) and Sen. Jim Sullivan (D-Wauwatosa), Wisconsin was one of only two states that did not issue felony charges until the fifth Operating While Intoxicated arrest or stop. This bill will make an OWI a felony after the fourth offense within five years.

This is a first step to tougher laws against drunk driving. While we are excited about tougher restrictions, we know there still is a lot of work to be done as this piece of legislation does little to deal with the main issue of first time offenders. Too many children and families are impacted each year – through injury and even death – to let this behavior continue.

Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin worked with the UW Health-led All-Wisconsin Alcohol Risk Education (AWARE) coalition to help pass this important legislation. The coalition was created a year ago and has more than 55 statewide members. It supports improving the health and safety of Wisconsin residents in the fight against alcohol abuse.

In Wisconsin, more than two-thirds of serious and fatal accidents caused by alcohol happen by drivers who have never been convicted. Tougher laws will help those who drink think before they pick up the keys.

The details on Senate Bill 66:

  • A fourth offense now is a felony if it occurs within five years of a previous offense.
  • Ignition locks are required for all repeat drunken drivers and for first-time offenders with blood-alcohol levels of 0.15 percent or greater.
  • First-offense drunken driving is a misdemeanor if a child younger than 16 is in the vehicle.
  • Judges have the option of offering reduced jail time to offenders who complete alcohol or drug treatment.
  • A provision that previously allowed lighter penalties for those with a blood-alcohol level between 0.08 and 0.10 percent is eliminated.
  • Fines for OWI are increased to fund the legislation.

If you’d like to stay up-to-date on issues important to Children’s Hospital and Health System, please e-mail Jennifer Mance at jmance@chw.org to sign up for our advocacy mailing list.

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