Green Bay Mayor Has Had Enough: Drunk Driving Must Stop

green-bay-wisconsinOften, it starts with an outrage. In this case, it was an event that shocked Green Bay, Wisconsin: a drunk man in an SUV ran a stop sign and rammed into the car of a Hobart couple, Jim and Wendy Rush, killing them and making their two children orphans.

That happened in February, and the anger has not died down. Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt has announced that the city has formed a new drunk driving task force. The aim is to bring about change at the municipal level.

Can drunk driving be tackled through local action? Ultimately, that’s where it all happens. The Federal Government might mandate a blood alcohol level of .08 as the legal limit for intoxication, but it’s a local police officer who makes the arrest.

We’ll suggest some possible initiatives for the force to consider:

  • Increased vigilance. Special DUI patrols could be deployed, especially at places and times in which drunk driving is likely to occur.
  • Getting the message out. The public should be encouraged to prevent their friends from drunk driving, and call the police when they see it. Wisconsin is notorious for its drinking culture, and the city can let everyone know that Green Bay is not a safe haven for drunk drivers.
  • Better access to sober rides. Taxis, rideshares, and designated driver services are a vital part of keeping streets safe. Some cities partner with and publicize services so that everyone who drinks knows that a safe ride is just a phone call away.
james-schmitt-green-bay
Mayor James J. Schmitt

But there’s something that not just Green Bay but everyone in Wisconsin can do to combat drunk driving: press for better ignition interlock laws.

An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Efforts to pass a law which requires an ignition interlock in the vehicles of all OWI offenders – not just first offenders – keep getting stymied.  The state’s liquor interests are powerful, and their task is to keep a lax environment for law enforcement so that diners order more drinks during the evening.

Public interest, though, is a different matter. States which have passed all-offender ignition interlock laws have seen steep declines in alcohol-related road deaths.  Green Bay would be doing a service not just for its own citizens but for all of Wisconsin if it called for ignition interlocks after every OWI conviction.

As Green Bay goes, so goes Wisconsin? Let’s hope Mayor Schmitt and his task force lights a fire under those who tolerate drunk driving. Green Bay, and Wisconsin, deserves better.