The State of Wisconsin is working hard to overcome its perceived culture of intoxication by imposing tougher DUI penalties.
Wisconsin leads the nation in binge drinking and drunk driving crashes, according to numbers cited in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
But a new push has led to a new series of DUI laws that take effect on July 1, 2010. The new laws include stiffer penalties for drunk drivers found with young passengers, a high blood alcohol content and multiple offenses on record.
The new Wisconsin DUI laws include additional penalties for the following offenses:
- First DUI Offense: A person convicted of a first or second DUI offense who has a passenger under the age of sixteen in the car faces a fine of $350-$1100 or jail time ranging from five days to six months. If a first time offender DUI offender has a blood alcohol level of greater than 0.15 then an interlock ignition device will be installed.
- Third DUI Offense: A person convicted of a third DUI offense will receive at least 45 days in prison. The sentence used to be 30 days.
- Fourth DUI Offense: If an offender is convicted a fourth time within five years, it will be considered a felony. There will also be a fine will between $600 and $10,000, and possible jail time will range between six months to six years.
- Seventh, Eighth, or Ninth Offense: A person convicted of this many DUIs will serve at least three years in jail for each offense.
- Tenth Offense: A person committing a tenth offense would receive at least four years of jail time.
- Repeat DUI offenders: Repeat DUI offenders convicted of DUI causing injury would receive up to six years in jail or would be required to pay up to $2,000 in fines. This punishment would be doubled if there was a minor in the car at the time of the offense.
- Offenders with a lower BAC will face the same penalties: Under the old regulations, offenders with a blood alcohol level below .10 but still above the legal limit were subject to lighter penalties, but that is no longer the case.
The bill is expected to cost Wisconsin an extra $12.8 million per year, largely due to the costs required to house inmates. This cost is expected to be offset by the introduction of higher fees to reinstate revoked or suspended licenses, as well as by a program that would allow judges to decrease jail time in return for offenders completing a drug or alcohol abuse course.
Supporters of the bill say that this will not only drive the cost of the bill down, but decrease the rate of repeat offenders, saving Wisconsin money in the long-term.
Polls indicate that the Wisconsin public is firmly behind the change in the drunk driving laws.
Wisconsin Public Radio and St. Norbert College conducted a survey of 400 people, 85 percent of whom support the bill. Fifty-five percent also support using a higher liquor tax to help finance the bill, though that idea was struck down by Wisconsin Assembly Democrats before the bill was passed.