New Wisconsin OWI Bill, if Passed, Will Close the State’s Most Dangerous Loophole

wisconsin-owi-loopholeIt’s one of the most perplexing, frustrating, self-defeating loopholes in Wisconsin motor vehicle law. And finally, a legislator has worked up a bill to fix it.

If you are convicted of an OWI in Wisconsin under certain conditions, you have to install an ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, in your vehicle. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

However, someone was asleep during the drafting of the original law, and as a result, it is perfectly legal to drive someone else’s car – without an interlock – while being required to have one on your own vehicle. As a result any driver who wants to drink, and who has access to a friend’s or family member’s vehicle, will continue to be a danger on the road.

As a result, Wisconsin’s ignition interlock requirements do not drive down the numbers of OWI arrests, collisions, and deaths as much as they do in other states.

Representative David Heaton (R-Wausau) has introduced a new Wisconsin OWI bill, Assembly Bill 266, which will, among other things, close this embarrassing loophole. Here’s the wording:

…a person who operates a vehicle that is not equipped with an IID, in violation of his or her restricted operating privilege, may be fined not less than $500 nor more than $1,200, or may be imprisoned for not more than six months, or both for the first offense. … In addition, the person’s operating privilege is restricted for an additional six months for each violation.

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Rep. Heaton

Law enforcement groups have expressed support for the legislation, as have a number of legislators in both parties. But Wisconsin has never been an easy state in which to fight the anti-drunk-driving battle. A pervasive drinking culture works against efforts to discourage the practice, so the outcome of the bill remains uncertain.

Perhaps this will be the year that Wisconsin gets the OWI legislation it deserves, and the state can begin to take some of its most dangerous drivers off the roads. We salute Representative Heaton and the other legislators who are working toward this goal.