Wisconsin’s next salvo in the war against drunk driving could be a law aimed at repeat OWI offenders. A bipartisan bill is in the works which would revoke the licenses of five-time drunk drivers. They’ll lose driving privileges for 10 years, with no option for an occupational license.
The hopes are that the “five strikes and you’re out” policy will decrease the number of repeat OWI offenders.
Problem is, they’re unfounded hopes. The five-strike rule is misguided, a futile gesture not rooted in our current knowledge of how drunk drivers behave.
The fact is, more than half of suspended drivers drive despite not having a license. That happens during one-year suspensions. Does anyone think that such drivers are going to sit out a 10 year suspension? Not only will they drive, but since they are multiple offenders, the chances are they will drink as well as drive – unlicensed and uninsured.
Benefit to society – zero.
Legislators need to stop considering what feels good and instead adopt what works. Instead of a 10-year revocation, a 10-year ignition interlock requirement would make more sense. The offender would be able to drive, go to work or school, and obtain treatment. He or she would not be able to drive drunk. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.
The idea of waiting until someone has 5 OWIs to take real action is almost comical. A desire to go easy on first offenders is natural (though ignition interlocks for first OWI offenders has shown to be effective in reducing recidivism). But giving a pass to second, third, and fourth offenders? Only a state with a drinking culture like Wisconsin’s could come up with a system that treats third through fifth offenders the same, as the state’s present system does. MADD is on record as stating that the proposed Wisconsin aw is not tough enough – interlocks are needed.
At the very least a third OWI should garner felony penalties. A fifth offense could carry a 10-year interlock requirement. That’s because anyone incorrigible enough to be arrested five times for driving drunk has a problem that needs treatment, which you don’t get sitting at home. The well-intentioned co-authors of the bill, Rep. Eric Genrich (D-Green Bay) and Rep. André Jacque (R-De Pere), are under the impression that the revocation periods are too short. They need to understand that the revocation periods are neither too short nor too long, but ineffective. That’s why ignition interlocks were invented.
To stop OWI offenses, what Wisconsin needs is what has worked well in neighboring Michigan: a combination Sobriety Court and ignition interlock requirement, so that offenders are supervised and treated, all the while being prevented from taking to the road while drunk. Stamping “REVOKED” on the license of someone with serious substance and behavioral problems is doing less than nothing.
Another bill still to be passed, Senate Bill 222, would attach an ignition interlock requirement to the driver, rather than the car, preventing offenders from using others’ vehicles while ordered to drive with an ignition interlock. That’s an excellent idea, one which will do more to make Wisconsin’s roads safer than the five-strike law will.