Did you know that there is still a state where drunk driving is not a criminal offense? In Wisconsin, operating while intoxicated (OWI) is a civil violation for the first offense, carrying a fine of $150-$300. Second offenses only have larger penalties if the offense occurred within 10 years of the first, or caused serious injury.
That may not be the case for long, though. A recent bill was introduced by the Wisconsin legislature that would upgrade first OWI offenses to a criminal misdemeanor, increase fines up to $500, and include the possibility of jail time. Another related bill calls for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years imprisonment if an OWI results in a death.
According to the Center for Disease Control, Wisconsin has the fourth highest drunk driving rates in the country, ahead of only South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wyoming. Wisconsin lawmakers think the low penalties are a big reason for this. Republican Representative Jim Ott authored the bills, and was quoted as saying, “I think it would be a deterrent effect. I think if people recognized and were taking drunk driving more seriously in Wisconsin than we have in the past, that it would cause people to not drive drunk and be a first offender.”