Group to Push for Changes in Wisconsin DUI Laws
By: Gerri Elder
Alcohol consumption and DUI laws in Wisconsin are a bit more relaxed than in other areas of the country.
The New York Times recently highlighted that in Wisconsin, kids can drink legally. Children that are accompanied by a parent or legal guardian, who gives consent, can be served alcohol in bars and restaurants in the state.
Actually, there is no state law setting a minimum age for alcohol consumption in Wisconsin. It is up to bartenders to make a determination on the fly about who to serve.
The Wisconsin law is in stark contrast to other states, where parents can be criminally charged for supplying minors with alcohol. For instance, in New York, parents were recently arrested for endangering the welfare of a child and unlawfully dealing with a child after serving alcohol to their 17-year-old daughter and her guests at a party.
In this case, according to CNY Central, police learned of the party when a 15-year-old girl had a crash after leaving the party and was arrested for New York DUI.
Across the pond in the UK, Tesco stores reportedly go so far as to refuse to sell alcohol to people who have children with them when shopping, according to Telegraph.co.uk. If the cashier believes the adult may be purchasing the alcohol for a teen to consume, the customer is turned away.
People in other areas might be quite surprised - or not - to learn that quite a lot of drinking goes on in Wisconsin. The state reportedly leads the nation in binge drinking and has every year in the decade that the Centers for Disease Control has kept track. Binge drinking is defined as the consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks in one sitting for males and four or more for females.
Unfortunately, Wisconsin also stands out as the state where more people drink and drive than anywhere else in the country. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that the state has the highest incidence of DUI-related (OWI-related) deaths in the United States.
A Push for Changes to Lenient Alcohol and DUI Laws
Some health officials and civic leaders in Wisconsin are now saying "enough." A campaign for tougher Wisconsin DUI laws was recently launched by a coalition called All-Wisconsin Alcohol Risk Education. The group also wishes to promote a greater general awareness of drinking problems and will push for increased screening for alcohol abuse at health clinics.
All-Wisconsin Alcohol Risk Education is led by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. The group has been critical of lax alcohol laws in the state and has blasted the mindset that accepts and even celebrates alcohol abuse.
Dr. Robert N. Golden, the dean of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, calls the state an island of alcohol abuse. Golden says the goal of the group is to cause a dramatic change in the alcohol laws, behaviors and culture in the state. He says that state agencies will use a $12.6 million federal grant to increase screening, intervention and referral services at 20 locations in Wisconsin.
Journalists have long been critical of the lenient DUI (OWI) laws in Wisconsin and lawmaker's apparent reluctance to tighten up the laws. Under the state's current DUI laws, drivers are not charged with felony DUI (OWI) until they are arrested for drinking and driving for the fifth time.
Wisconsin law also does not allow police to conduct DUI checkpoints - and is not likely to in the future. Wisconsin State Representative Marlin Schneider views sobriety checkpoints as an intrusion on Constitutional rights of due process.
Schneider is also an example of the state legislature's resistance to change Wisconsin's underage drinking laws. He says the law permitting kids to drink in bars with their parents allows parents to supervise and educate their children about drinking. After all, according to Schneider, the kids are going to drink alcohol anyway.
It is this mindset in the state and among lawmakers that the All-Wisconsin Alcohol Risk Education is up against in its efforts to have changes made to the state's alcohol and DUI laws. Apparently the group has an uphill battle ahead.