Wisconsin Has Cut Drunk Driving Deaths by Half. Here’s How to Cut Them Further.

Wisconsin -has-cut-drunk-driving-deaths-by-half-using-law-enforcementThere’s been some good news from the Wisconsin DOT. Since 2004, the state has cut drunk driving deaths by half, from 326 to 162. That’s a very impressive reduction, and it was no accident.  The credit goes to the state for organizing a set of practices that have gradually brought down the numbers by taking drunk drivers off the roads and discouraging others from getting behind the wheel while impaired:

  • OWI task forces.  Police have engaged in coordinated efforts to “blitz” an area and pick up impaired drivers.
  • Education campaigns. A lot of time and money has been spent getting out the message that drunk driving kills, and that “buzzed driving” is really nothing more than drunk driving.
  • More available rides. The past ten years has seen the rise of Uber and other rideshare services, as well as the Tavern League’s Safe Ride program. The knowledge that a safe way home from the bar is accessible via smartphone has made a difference in the drunk driving landscape.

Needed: A Better Ignition Interlock Law

Education and enforcement are two of the pillars of a sound anti-impaired driving policy, and both have clearly been working in Wisconsin. But getting those numbers down further will not be easy. It’s doubtful the next ten years will see another 50 percent reduction unless something new is added: an all-offender ignition interlock law.

Wisconsin-could-cut-drunk-driving-deaths-more-with-ignition-interlockAn ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Currently 25 states require every convicted drunk driver to install an ignition interlock in his or her vehicle. Those states typically see a dramatic downturn in alcohol-related road deaths, sometimes as much as 30 or 40 percent.

Because an ignition interlock takes a drunk driver off the road completely, it is the only solution with a guaranteed, measurable effect on OWI collision statistics. Currently Wisconsin requires interlock devices for repeat offenders and those who are arrested driving with an extremely high blood alcohol concentration (BAC).  However, a 2012 report by the National Transportation Safety Board notes:

Arizona and Oregon have experienced over 50 percent DUI fatality reductions since passing all-offender interlock laws, and other states have also seen declines when compared to the states that use only interlocks to address high-BAC offenders.

Wisconsin deserves congratulations for its efforts reducing OWI fatalities. It has done everything it can – short of mandating ignition interlocks for all offenders. That last step, the third pillar in a complete anti-drunk driving strategy, would save even more lives on Wisconsin’s roads and streets.