The only state in the U.S. that doesn’t criminalize a first drunk driving offense, Wisconsin is notorious for its weak drunk driving laws. As a result, the state has the highest drunk driving rate in the nation, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. However, the state made the first step toward strengthening its DUI laws when the Wisconsin Assembly passed several important bills on Tuesday. However, some bills will still need to be passed by the Senate before they become laws.
The first bill would make all second offenses misdemeanors subject to a $350 fine and 5 days in jail, no matter how much time has passed since a prior offense. Currently, a second DUI offense that’s committed more than 10 years after a previous offense is considered a first offense.
Even worse, a fourth offense that’s committed after only five years of a prior offense is considered a misdemeanor. Fourth offenses committed within five years of a prior offense are a felony. The first bill would close this loophole in Wisconsin’s drunk driving laws by making all fourth offenses felonies subject to a minimum fine of $600 and 6 months to 6 years in jail, no matter how much time has passed since a prior offense.
The second bill would slightly strengthen the state’s ignition interlock law. Interlocks are required for first-time offenders with a BAC of 0.15 or higher and all repeat offenders in Wisconsin. However, many offenders get away with not installing the device due to lax supervision by the court. If passed, the third bill will ensure that interlocks are promptly installed when ordered by a court.
While the state still does not plan to criminalize a first offense, the Wisconsin Assembly also passed a third bill by voice vote that requires all first-time offenders to appear in court rather than just pay their fine. This bill will now head to the state’s governor.