4 OWIs in Wisconsin – Say Goodbye to Hunting for Good

felony owi wisconsin no huntingIf you pile up enough drunk driving convictions, eventually you will get slapped with a felony conviction – even in Wisconsin, a state which is notoriously lenient on impaired drivers. Last year the state upped its anti-OWI game by making a 4th OWI a Class H felony.

A felony is a by definition a serious offense. And while Class H is not high on the ladder, and 4 offenses is a high number to rate a felony OWI (in many states it’s 3 and in some, 2). Consequences of a 4th OWI in Wisconsin can include:

  • Fines up to $10,000
  • 3 years’ license revocation
  • Up to six years’ imprisonment

But there’s another consequence of a Wisconsin felony OWI that’s not often thought about: as a convicted felon, you will not be able to own a firearm of any kind. Not for protection, and not for recreation.

So you can say goodbye to Wisconsin hunting season. Group hunts are also not allowed, because everyone in a group hunt must possess a valid hunting license, which you can’t have if you can’t own a rifle.

The firearm provision is part of the fallout of a felony DUI that people rarely consider when they make the decision to drink and drive.  There are more, of course. It’s hard to hold a job with a criminal record, and harder to get one. Getting loans, rentals, credit, and professional licenses can prove impossible. One’s entry into many professions – security, teaching, finance, law enforcement – even bartending is out of bounds.

If you have serious alcohol issues, and you know that sooner or later you will get behind the wheel again, despite previous convictions, it’s important that you address the issue. Rehab, counseling, and a voluntary ignition interlock are measures that could help prevent you from becoming a convicted felon, and losing privileges that most Wisconsonites take for granted.

Lawmaker: Fatal Crash Proves Oklahoma DUI Laws Need to be Tougher

Oklahoma DUI laws need to be tougherCrashes happen, with or without DUI laws. But a lawmaker says that stronger Oklahoma DUI laws could have prevented a crash that killed a 37-year-old mother and injured three others.

William Maker, who was involved in an alcohol-related crash on New Year’s Eve, had pleaded guilty to four previous drunk driving charges.  At the time, Oklahoma’s system of dealing with such charges was scattered. DUIs did not go to a court of record, meaning that courts were not necessarily aware of DUI cases that happened in different counties, so those crimes did not necessarily count towards multiple offenses.

Maker’s sentences were suspended or deferred, including a 2015 10-year sentence. Had the last sentence not been deferred, Maker would have been in prison last New Year’s Eve, instead of on the roads.

Representative Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, who last year sponsored a bill to better track drunk drivers, wants to strengthen Oklahoma DUI laws still further. Last year the Impaired Driving Elimination Act (IDEA) was passed in April, assigning all DUI cases to a court of record, so drunk drivers could be tracked and prosecuted properly.  Had the law been in effect, the victim, Amanda Carson, would still be alive.

There are other issues too. Maker should have been driving with an ignition interlock in his vehicle, but he was driving his mother’s car. Proper monitoring of data from interlocks can catch drivers who do not use their own vehicles. There also needs to be consequences for those who provide vehicles to drivers who are required to use interlock-equipped vehicles.

It’s been a hard lesson for Oklahoma, and Rep. Sanders is determined to ensure that the state doesn’t need to be schooled again. Keep an eye on him – he represents the trend toward better DUI laws and safer roads in Oklahoma and across the country.

11 Drunk Driving Offenses and a Valid License. Wisconsin, Are You Serious?

wisconsin license suspension for owi not workingA high-profile drunk driving case has recently raised the question: just what does it take to have a drunk driver taken off the road in Wisconsin?

People were not terribly surprised when a Fond du Lac man arrested for drunk driving was found to have 10 previous convictions for the same crime. With no escalating penalties for multiple offenses, there’s little incentive for problem drinkers in that state to stop driving provided they avoid a serious collision.

What made some observers stop and think was the fact that the driver’s license was valid at the time of his arrest. That’s right – you can have 10 OWI convictions on your record and still possess a valid license in some cases. This driver – whose name was Steven Johnson – did have his license revoked for three years after his tenth conviction. But he got it back last year.

Not that the license suspension would have prevented anything. License suspension does not keep people from driving, and certainly not from driving drunk. That is why ignition interlocks were invented. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

But many citizens feel that if a drunk driver has been suspended, the law has done its part. What happens after that is on the offender.  The problem, of course, is that what happens after that is often a collision, injury, and death.

License suspension is a feeble way to deal with drunk drivers, some of whom have alcohol or other behavior issues that need addressing.

For comparison’s sake, let’s see how other states treat multiple convictions:

  • Oregon: 3rd or subsequent DUI offense: permanent revocation
  • Massachusetts: 3rd OUI, 8 years’ suspension, 4th OUI , 10 years’ suspension, 5th Offense, lifetime suspension
  • Illinois: 2nd OWI, 5 years’ suspension, 3rd OWI, 10 years’s suspension, 4th OWI, lifetime suspension

The majority of US states now mandate ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders, as a way to keep incorrigible multiple offenders off the road. The best of these laws include a provision called compliance-based removal:  offenders cannot have the device removed until they can go several months without a failed test.  Offenders who can’t keep from drinking will keep the device on their vehicles as long as it takes  – years, if necessary, or forever.  As a result, they can only drive when they are sober.

Wisconsin has been dancing around with drunk driving long enough. Other states have addressed the problem with sensible laws. What’s keeping Wisconsin from doing the same? What’s so great about having a man out on the roads drunk again and again, valid license in his wallet, that makes it hard to pass laws that will keep dangerous people like this off the roads, or at least sober while they drive?

UTAH: Is Lowering the BAC Limit to .05 a Good Idea?

lower BAC limit for Utah?A Utah legislator wants to lower the state’s legal blood alcohol limit from .08 – the national standard – to .05. Representative Norman Thurston plans to sponsor a bill in the next legislative session, with a view to lowering the number of alcohol-related fatalities on the state’s roads.

It’s a long road to passage, but if it did go through, the law would make Utah’s the strictest standard in the country. No other state has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit below .08.

It’s no surprise that Utah was the first state to see such a proposal. With its large Mormon population that avoids drinking alcohol, Utah has the lowers drunk driving numbers in the country. Rep. Thurston believes that lowering the limit would bring those numbers down even further.

Thurston has allies. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been pushing for a lower limit for a few years now.

He also has opponents. Some cite the objections noted below. Others, like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)

Is a Lower BAC Limit Necessary?

Two schools of thought exist on whether it’s a helpful to lower the legal limit. Proponents will note:

  • A BAC of .05 is still plenty impaired. At that level driving ability is definitely compromised.
  • Many countries around the world have limits lower than .08. Limits of .05(much of Asia and Middle East), .03  (Japan) .02 (much of Europe) are seen more often than.08, which is relatively lenient nowadays.

Opponents of a lowered limit have other concerns:

  • An .05 limit would punish social drinkers who are not inebriated.
  • Most drivers don’t keep track of BAC and wouldn’t know what theirs was anyway.
  • Most crashes involve drivers with higher alcohol levels.

Is .05 the Wave of the Future?

Some safety laws or approaches take root in one or two states and spread throughout the country. Ignition interlocks, which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking, began with a pilot program in California and are now used throughout the country.

Will the idea of a lower BAC limit spread in the US? It’s doubtful. For one thing, the country had to be browbeaten into accepting the .08 limit by the withholding of highway funds. The standard wasn’t universal here until 2005, when Minnesota became the last of the holdouts to give up a higher BAC limit. Lowering it again would be an extremely hard sell.

Moreover, not everyone is convinced that a lower BAC limit is the best approach. Laws promoting ignition interlocks are one better option: they target repeat offenders, who are over-represented in DUI collisions and deaths. MADD has a list of measures it considers paramount, including no refusal laws and automatic license suspension for those arrested for DUI.

Rep. Thurston wants to hold Utah residents to a higher standard. Even in a state not known for its sympathy toward drunk drivers, it’s a tough row to hoe.

Wisconsin Legislators: Let’s Go Back to Seizing DUI Vehicles

vehicle seizure for OWIDrunk driving is a stubborn problem everywhere, and it’s particularly stubborn in Wisconsin, thanks in part to laws that are notoriously lenient. In an effort to clamp down on impaired drivers, the Brown County Board is asking the state legislature to allow judges to order the vehicles of repeat drunk drivers seized.

Why Seizure Was Stopped: the Rise of Ignition Interlocks

In the past Wisconsin judges could order repeat OWI drivers’ vehicles to be taken away as a means of preventing more offenses. In 2009, however, Wisconsin passed a law promoting ignition interlocks as the preferred measure. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

The idea of an ignition interlock is to prevent offenders from driving a vehicle while drunk, but not prevent them from making a living, going to school, or otherwise getting their lives back on track. Interlocks have grown in popularity – many states now mandate them for all OWI offenses, including first offenses.

Is Vehicle Seizure the Answer?

Ignition Interlocks – A Better Idea

Impounding the vehicles of repeat drunk drivers has a logic to it. If an offender has no car, he or she can’t drive – unless, of course, another vehicle is available. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is in favor of impounding habitual offenders’ vehicles. Green Bay proposed a similar measure a few months back.

Vehicle seizure should probably be available as an alternative in some cases. But there’s a reason states have been moving toward ignition interlocks as a primary measure: they work. With Ohio’s signing of Annie’s Law, 29 states now require the devices for all drunk driving offenders. The trend continues, because states which pass all-offender laws notice a reduction in alcohol-related road deaths.

Compliance: The Real Solution

Wisconsin’s OWI problem is partly due to its famous drinking culture, partly due to weak laws, and also a result of poor compliance. What Wisconsin needs a better ignition interlock law – an all-offender one – and a better system for ensuring that those who are ordered to install an interlock actually have it installed. There’s no need to return to old methods like vehicle seizure until the present, proven ones have been put in effect properly.

A DUI in a Wheelchair? An Oregon Court’s Not Buying It.

wheelchair dui in Oregon: no goIn a case that will have few repercussions in the world of drunk driving, the Oregon Court of Appeals has reversed the conviction of a man convicted of DUI in 2012.

The man in question, James Greene, was driving a motorized wheelchair on a crosswalk when he hit a moving pickup truck. He was found to have been drinking, however, and so was charged with driving under the influence.

A DUI on a motorized wheelchair? It’s happened before. But is it right? Is a person in that particular vehicle a motorist or a pedestrian?

The offender appealed, insisting he was a pedestrian, and a motorized wheelchair does not count as a vehicle. The prosecution says they are vehicles. In fact, wheelchairs are treated as bicycles when ridden in the bike lanes – and bicyclists are subject to DUI laws.

The court, however, sided with Greene. In Oregon, at least, for the present, wheelchairs are only vehicles when driven in bicycle lanes; at other times the drivers (or riders, if you prefer) are pedestrians.

Not every state has gone the way of Oregon. In 2015 the Michigan Court of Appeals  ruled that a DUI on a mobility scooter was permissible.

There have been arrests and citations for drunk driving on horses, Segways, golf carts, riding mowers… if it has a motor and is a vehicle, chances are someone has driven it drunk and gotten into trouble.

It’s clear that while the defendant in this case was cleared, the lesson of all of these arrests should still apply. You can get seriously hurt – and cause harm to others – by venturing into traffic on any kind of vehicle while drinking. You might be able to evade a DUI in Oregon – though you could face other charges if you harm others while riding a wheelchair drunk – but you can’t evade your responsibility to keep the roadways safe.

A Breathalyzer on Wheels Will Speed Up Maryland DUI Arrests

maryland dui truck with breathalyzerIt doesn’t take long to spot a drunk driver. Once an officer sees a car hit a curb, veer into an oncoming lane, dawdle suspiciously at a stoplight, or display other telltale signs, it’s just a matter of pulling over the driver, asking some questions, and administering the field sobriety test.

Then comes the time-consuming part. The officer needs to bring the alleged offender down to the station to be tested by an evidential-quality breathalyzer.  The ones the officers carry are quite accurate, but for a court case, a bigger machine is needed. Bringing the driver to the station and setting up the test takes time – and it takes an officer off the streets. If a way could be found to get those suspects tested faster, the officers could get back to their beats, where they could be on the lookout for more drunk drivers. The roads would be that much safer.

Now the Maryland State Police hope to get those officers back on the roads faster by putting that breathalyzer on wheels.  The State Police have purchased a mobile breath alcohol testing truck which will make the process for testing Maryland DUI suspects faster and simpler. Suspects can remain in the truck until they are picked up by a sober third party – or brought in for further legal action. The equipment on the truck is of the same standard as is in a police station.

Having the testing done closer to the arrests will help free up officers to get back on the road and make more arrests. Thus no one should be surprised if Maryland DUI arrests go up next year.

Ohio: Annie’s Law Signed, Increasing Use of Ignition Interlocks

governor kasich signed annie's law

Governor John Kasich

Last week in Ohio Governor Kasich signed a law that will achieve what road safety laws are meant to do: save lives. House Bill 388 allows first OVI offenders to shorten their 12-month license suspension period to 6 months by installing an ignition interlock device for the remainder of the period. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

HB 388 is known as Annie’s Law, after Annie Rooney, a Chillicothe lawyer who was killed by a repeat drunk driving offender in 2013. Rooney’s family, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and other road safety activists have campaigned in favor of thelaw.

This news comes just as a new study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that states that require ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders, including first-time OVI offenders, have fewer alcohol-related road deaths. Annie’s Law does not require the devices, but the law is definitely a step in the right direction.

Annie Rooney of
Annie’s Law

Ignition interlocks are gaining in popularity because states are realizing that license suspensions don’t work. Drivers, and especially drunk drivers, tend to ignore suspensions, which imperils them and everyone on the road. Replacing a suspension with an interlock means that an offender is able to put his or her life back together, make a living, and obtain counseling if needed. Moreover, he or she won’t be able to operate the vehicle while impaired. It’s a win-win for the offender and for society.

It has been a long haul for the supporters of Annie’s Law.  When the law takes effect on April 4th, Ohio’s roads will start to become safer for everyone. Our thanks to Governor Kasich, Annie Rooney’s family, and all the people and organizations who worked so hard to get this vital law passed.

Excessive Coffee is No Grounds for DUI. Please, Let’s Move On.

No need to worry about a coffee DUIIt was a tempest in a coffee pot. Much ado about 0.0% blood alcohol level.  Making Jamaica Blue Mountain out of a molehill.

It all started when a motorist named Joseph Schwab was pulled over after he cut off a police officer on the road.  Suspecting impairment, the officer tested Schwab’s breath, but the breathalyzer revealed a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of zero.

The officer thought that some other drug might have caused the suspect’s aggressive driving, so she booked him for DUI and took him to the station, where a blood draw would give a conclusive answer.

That answer turned out to be an embarrassment to all concerned: the only drug in Schwab’s blood was caffeine. The state decided to pursue the case, unfortunately, using the rationale that caffeine is, after all, a drug. The prosecution suspected that another drug was involved, but nothing but caffeine was found.

If it sounds shaky, it was, and eventually the coffee DUI charge was dropped.

Before it was dropped, social media erupted with articles by coffee drinkers outraged that their favorite beverage was being maligned. Being pursued for a coffee DUI is no joke when you have a five-up-a-day habit.

Amusing as it is, the episode was unfortunate, because it distracted a lot of us from the real issues. Caffeine might be a drug, and drinking too much coffee could make you jittery and perhaps a bad driver.  But pursuing cases like these makes it harder to take genuine efforts against DUI seriously.

Of course, stories like these never die, and some people believe that their precious lattes are under attack. It simply isn’t true. You are safe to sip and drive, as long as it’s coffee.

Study: Ignition Interlocks Save Lives Even Before They’re Installed

A national road safety trend just got a boost from public health research. It was already known that ignition interlocks – devices which prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – are a proven measure to prevent drunk drivers from re-offending. Now a new ignition interlock study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that states that mandate the devices for all drunk driving offenders, including first-time DUI offenders, have fewer alcohol-related road deaths.

Currently 28 states require the devices for all offenders. The Johns Hopkins study found that traffic fatalities declined 7 percent in states that mandated ignition interlocks for first-time drunken-driving offenders. The drop was bigger in states that required the devices for all offenders than others which only employed them for repeat offenders.

Ignition Interlock Study - fatalities decline 7 percentThe ignition interlock study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, tracked ignition interlock laws from 1982 to 2013, and assessed the effects of the laws.

The conclusion of the ignition interlock study is compelling: ignition interlock laws reduce alcohol-involved fatal crashes.

The reasons are twofold. Obviously, offenders who have the device installed will not reoffend. But the prospect of having the device installed is also a deterrent to those who might consider drinking and driving. So the devices are working to save lives even before they are installed.

That conclusion is news because of the 30,000 or so fatal crashes that occur each year in the US, a third of those involve alcohol. Ignition interlocks are the only measure that actually prevents a drunk driver from taking to the road. Fines and imprisonment have a place in the judicial landscape. Assessment and treatment are also vital, and interlocks should be a part of that too. But only interlock devices actually prevent drunk driving itself.

Also Needed: Better Interlock Compliance

The results that the Johns Hopkins study records were achieved under conditions that are far from ideal. While some states are enthusiastic about ensuring that all convicted drunk drivers comply with interlock laws, others allow offenders to slip through the cracks. News reports often feature crashes caused by drivers who should have had an interlock installed. If all states did a good job ensuring compliance, the number of lives saved would be even greater.

The Case for All-Offender Ignition Interlock Laws

While there is no shortage of documentation on the effectiveness of ignition interlocks as a preventive for impaired driving, the Johns Hopkins ignition interlock study is important because it makes the case for all-offender laws. Some legislators consider ignition interlocks too strict for first-time offenders, but the numbers tell the story: requiring ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders saves lives. If your state doesn’t have require ignition interlocks for all DUI offenses, it’s time to contact your legislator. Lives in your state are on the line.