By Mark P. Powers
Attorney at Law
It’s the summer festival season in Wisconsin and what’s not to like? There’s an abundance of great food and wonderful music. Good times with family and friends will create memories for a lifetime. And, of course, all that partying includes plenty of drinking. After all, drinking has long been fully engrained in Wisconsin’s culture.
If ever there was a time of year to remind us all about the dangers of drinking and driving, this is it. The numbers don’t lie. Wisconsin has the highest rate of drunken driving (OWI/DWI) in the nation. A nation-wide study released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services a few years ago, showed that more than 26 percent of Wisconsin adults who were surveyed admitted that they had driven under the influence of alcohol in the previous year.
Before you head off to that festival or private party, you need to remember that several changes have been made to toughen up our state’s laws against impaired driving. The most significant change is that if your blood alcohol concentration is over .15 or if you improperly refuse a mandatory blood or urine test, you are now required to have an ignition interlock device on any vehicle you own or operate. This includes any vehicle titled jointly with a spouse.
The interlock device is basically a breathalyzer test, requiring the driver to blow into the machine before starting the car. If you skip the test or if there is alcohol in your system, the device triggers your car’s lights and horn to flash and beep, making you a rolling “pull me over” target for law enforcement. The maximum blood alcohol concentration you can have is .02, significantly lower than the .08 legal limit.
On all repeat offenses, ignition interlock devices are required and jail time is mandatory – five days for a second offense and a minimum 45 days on the third offense. If it’s your fourth offense and you have a prior offense on your record within the past 5 years, it is now a felony.
So, by all means, enjoy the festival season. But if you’ve had a few drinks, think about the cost of what you’re doing. When in doubt, get a cab. A $75 cab ride is a lot less expensive than the $700-800 forfeiture on an OWI first offense.
If you can’t get a cab, don’t get behind the wheel. In Wisconsin, OWI (operating while intoxicated) doesn’t mean you physically need to be driving down the road. Operation is defined as any physical manipulation necessary to put a vehicle in motion. For example, if you’re sitting in a parking lot behind the wheel with the ignition running, you could be charged with OWI. Be smart. Have a seat in the back if you’re going to sleep it off.
Remember, it only takes one time to get involved in a catastrophic crash that can seriously injure or even kill you or someone else who just happens to be on the road with family or friends. You can take a life in an instant.
No party or festival is worth that high a price.