11 DUIs 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?