Wisconsin’s culture of drinking to excess is probably the most formidable obstacle to bringing our state’s laws in line with most of the rest of the nation. It’s just a guess on my part, but I think a lot of our politicians are of a mind that their constituents don’t really want them to write much tougher laws regarding drunken driving.
And, in the past four years, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign says the beer, wine, and liquor industry spent over 800 grand to buy off the politicians, and predicts that when we have totals for what’s been spent since this past June, it will exceed a million bucks.
You can rent a lot of politicians for a million bucks.
Here’s what the politicians did, though: they made the 4th DUI a felony - but only if it happens within five years of the 3rd offense. They required interlock devices for repeat offenders, and for first-timers who blow 0.15 or higher. They made the first offense a misdemeanor if a child under 16 is in the vehicle. The somewhat stronger laws go into effect on the first of July next summer.
There’s a lot they didn’t do, though.
A first-time DUI offender gets essentially a traffic ticket, unless there’s a child in the car. Not even a misdemeanor. Somebody should remind our politicians that many of our state’s alcohol-related deaths and injuries are caused by first-time offenders.
Anybody want to argue that first-time offenders have driven while under the influence before, but just didn’t get caught? Pretty safe bet.
Remember the loud wail a couple summers ago when cops set up “sobriety checkpoints” in the Windsor and DeForest area? And the hue and cry about “Operation Nightcap” on the Beltline, which they run every blue moon or so? (Wait a minute - we have a blue moon tomorrow night!) 38 states use sobriety checkpoints to try and keep drunks off the roads, but not here.
We independent and stubborn ‘sconnies are always howling about search and seizure, and entrapment, and so on. But the US Supreme Court has never had a problem with reasonably-run sobriety checkpoints. Our politicians don’t have the intestinal fortitude to mandate checkpoints at places where cops say the biggest problems are.
But there’s hope.
The culture of alcohol to excess in our state is slowly changing. In my checkered past, four decades ago, I bent the law many times and was very lucky to have never been caught. But my kids - God bless them - are adamant about walking or taking a cab when they’re at the bars. I hope they’re representative of their generation.
The legislature’s latest effort to curb drunken driving was lukewarm at best. It may take another decade or so to give our laws some teeth. For the families of all those who will be killed or hurt by drunken drivers in the meantime, it’s no solace, though.
Have a great time tomorrow night, but please let somebody sober do the driving.