Closing Wisconsin’s Ignition Interlock Loophole – A No-Brainer

The whole idea of an ignition interlock  – a device which prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking – is to keep impaired drivers from taking to the road. And they work, provided they are installed in the vehicle in question.

Closing Wisconsin ignition interlock law loophole is a no-brainerThat is why most states’ ignition interlock laws stipulate that a convicted OWI offender must install an interlock on whatever vehicle he or she drives.

Sounds simple enough. But not for Wisconsin.

For some reason, Wisconsin demands only that drunk drivers install the interlock on the vehicle they own. They can then leave that car or truck in the garage, borrow Aunt Sally’s Buick, and drive to their heart’s content. If they tend to drink and drive, then nothing will stop them.

If it sounds pointless, that’s because it is. Which is why law enforcement agencies and other road safety groups are backing a new bill which would close the loophole in Wisconsin’s interlock laws. The new law would tie the interlock to whatever vehicle the offender drives, rather than the one he or she owns.

Among the organizations supporting this bill is the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, whose director, Jim Palmer, said, “Wisconsin has an average of over 33,000 drunk driving arrests each year resulting in over 200 fatalities and 3000 injuries.  We need to pass common sense laws that acknowledge the need to drive and insure offenders are driving sober.”

Wisconsin has been a tough nut for road-safety advocates to crack. The state’s well-known drinking culture has led to a lax attitude towards drunk driving. First OWI offenses, provided the BAC is not above 1.5, are still rewarded with a ticket, much as driving with a headlight burned out would be.  About half of US states now mandate ignition interlocks for first OWI offenses, and more are on deck to make that change.

Moreover, legislators say that about 70 percent of convicted drunk drivers are skirting the ignition interlock requirement by using other vehicles.

The AAA, MADD, the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association, and other police and anti-drunk-driving groups are behind Wisconsin’s new interlock bill.

We know it doesn’t take brains to see why the Wisconsin ignition interlock loophole needs to be closed. But it might take a bit of will to make it happen.