Could Wisconsin’s Wimpy Ignition Interlock Law Finally Man Up?

wimpy wisconsin ignition interlock lawDrunk driving appears to be an easier occupation in Wisconsin than it is in the surrounding states. Wisconsin does not criminalize a first OWI provided the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is below .15. But that might change if State Representative Andre Jacque gets his way. The Republican from the De Pere Assembly District plans to give a steroid shot to an ignition interlock law that is among the puniest in the nation.

An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking. Wisconsin mandates the devices for those convicted of drunk driving with a BAC of .15 or above, or those with repeat offenses.  The devices are known to reduce alcohol-related road deaths.

However, many of those convicted in Wisconsin are evading the requirement. They sell their cars to a relative and claim they no longer have one; then they “borrow” the car in question, which offers no protection against drunk driving. That’s not illegal in Wisconsin – if a driver is stopped without an interlock, he or she can legally claim that they’re borrowing someone else’s vehicle, and are not flouting the law.

Jacque wants to do a very sensible thing: tie the interlock requirement to the offender’s driver’s license, so that any vehicle the offender drives must have an interlock installed. Many states have just such a law, and for good reason. Repeat offenders, who often have alcohol abuse or dependency problems, are inclined to drive drunk again and again until they are caught – or killed.

The law Representative Jacque wants to pass would impose fines of $500 to $1,200 and possibly jail time for anyone who does not install an ignition interlock.

It’s a sensible move: Wisconsin’s vigorous drinking culture has led to a tolerance of drunk driving that is rare in the country. The weakness of the state’s ignition interlock program  has compounded the danger on the road: too many drunk drivers are free to get back behind the wheel, where they, their passengers, other drivers or pedestrians might not be so lucky next time.

Wisconsin citizens needs a break, and Representative Jacque wants to give them one, by beefing up the state’s ignition interlock law so offenders have to take it seriously. Anyone who takes road safety seriously will listen to Andre Jacque during this next legislative session, and help him reform Wisconsin’s feeble OWI laws.

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