Man Blames Wisconsin for Drunk Driving Arrest. He’s Got a Point.

wisconsin-tolerates-drunk-drivingIt’s hard to shift the blame for an OWI. You decided to drink and drive – no one forced you.

Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time.

But recently a man who was picked up for drunk driving said that he was not to blame – the state of Wisconsin was.

The 23-year-old had crashed into an electrical pole at 3:30 in the morning. He refused a breathalyzer test and had to have blood drawn to assess his degree of intoxication or non-intoxication. It was his second OWI offense.

His excuse was that the Wisconsin drinking culture gave him “no other choice but to drink.”

He’s got a point. Wisconsin is notorious for pushing drinks on people. Last year a survey from proclaimed that Wisconsin was the drunkest state by any measure used.

  • More residents had consumed at least one alcoholic drink in the last 30 days
  • More residents – 8.7 percent – qualified as heavy drinkers.
  • More residents were binge drinkers

News articles have appeared – some of them very thorough and thoughtful – about why Wisconsin’s culture is so steeped in alcohol. There’s the German angle – the population is largely descended from people who loved brewing and beer-drinking. But somehow, Germany has managed to get a very good grip on drunk driving. The blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit there is .05, lower than the US.

Some cite the cold winters, but somehow Sweden has a much lower rate of alcohol-related road fatalities. And they have a pretty cold winter. The BAC limit there is .02, however.

It might just come down to Wisconsin’s tolerant attitude. Alcohol is sold and welcomed everywhere, and it fuels most gatherings.  The question is why the state seems to extend that welcome to drunk drivers.

One reason is that alcohol vendors hold a good amount of sway in Wisconsin. That influence has been able to quash strong anti-OWI laws. The state does not mandate ignition interlocks (car breathalyzers) for all drunk driving offenses, as 28 other states now do.  Repeat drunk drivers are not charged with a felony until the fourth offense. There is no minimum jail sentence for a first offense. In fact, as far as criminal penalties for drunk driving go, Wisconsin ranked 46 out of 50 states in a recent WalletHub survey.

So maybe the man was right – in part. Ultimately, the choice to drink and drive is an individual one. But it’s clear that Wisconsin is doing its best to keep drunk drivers out of jail and on the road.