Wisconsin: Racine County Considers Victim Impact Panels

victim impact panelRacine County wants to reduce drunk driving on its roads. To that end, a criminal justice committee is considering adopting victim impact panels as a way to keep drunk drivers from repeating their crime.

There are, generally speaking, three types of measure that states use to combat drunk driving:

  • Punitive – fines, jail time, community service, license suspension. These actions are meant to inconvenience the offender so he or she comes to regret the crime. The theory is that the DUI offender will learn that drunk driving has unpleasant consequences, and will avoid it from then on.
  • Preventive –Ignition interlocks, or car breathalyzers, can be installed on the vehicles of offenders. They prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. The idea is to directly protect society against those who would drink and drive by immobilizing them. Currently 30 states mandate ignition interlocks for all drunk driving offenders. Wisconsin is not one of them.
  • Educational – Most states offer “DUI school” or other educational program to help offenders understand the dangers of drunk driving. Victim impact panels are another tactic, one that works on the emotions. Offenders hear the victims of drunk driving – those who have been injured, or those whose loved ones were injured or killed by an impaired driver – so that they can realize how their reckless actions affect the community. According to MADD, the panels are to “help drunk and drugged driving offenders to recognize and internalize the lasting and long-term effects of substance-impaired driving.”

No anti-drunk driving measure is sufficient on its own. Ignition interlocks are proven to reduce alcohol-related road fatalities, but the states that make the most progress are those who combine ignition interlocks with other types of programs. Victim impact panels add a human dimension to the problem, allowing an offender to put him or herself in the victim’s place – possibly for the first time. Generally those who attend such panels report that they learn from them.

Sometimes victim impact panels give the lectern to a drunk driver who has injured or killed a person, and who has suffered the life-altering consequences.

Adding victim impact panels to Racine’s anti-OWI efforts would help educate offenders and deter some of them. A better strategy would be to press the state of Wisconsin to adopt ignition interlocks for all OWI offenses committed with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 or more. This is what 30 states have already done, and what Wisconsin would do if its legislators were more in tune with strategies that are working to reduce OWI collisions around the country. An all-offender ignition interlock law – together with victim impact panels – would be a big step in the right direction for a state that is unsure where to go on this vital matter.