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Video of the Wisconsin State Legislature

11th Senate District


November 15, 2013 

Drunk Driving Laws May Become Stronger

Wisconsin has long been known as a state where alcohol consumption is high.  Whether it's considered a part of Wisconsin's culture, heritage, or tradition, drinking to excess has plagued our state for generations.  It is a difficult issue to solve, but that does not mean we stop trying to find solutions. 

Alcohol abuse in Wisconsin is of significant concern, as the adult binge drinking rate is the highest in the nation.  Rates of alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse continue to be higher here than anywhere else in the nation.  In 2011, excessive drinking in Wisconsin resulted in about 1,500 deaths, 48,500 hospitalizations, 46,500 treatment admissions, 60,000 arrests and 5,700 motor vehicle crashes. 

Drunk driving is also a pervasive problem, which has yet to be solved.  National data suggests Wisconsin has the highest rate of drinking and driving in the nation.  Not only can alcohol use and misuse lead to personal problems and health issues, but for those who choose to drink and drive, it can be fatal.  In 2010, 254 people died in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and about 44% of all motor vehicle fatalities were alcohol-related that year. 

Each session, the Legislature attempts to address the problem through a number of legislative efforts, and this session is no different.  Some of those are aimed at first-time drunk driving offenses and continue with all subsequent offenses.  Under current law, many first-offense cases are municipal violations, where a person may simply pay a fine and not have to appear in court, similar to a speeding ticket.  But first time offenders need to be treated more seriously, and to that end, Assembly Bill 67 requires any first time offender to make a personal appearance in court.  I am a co-sponsor of this legislation.

Next, Assembly Bill 68 and Assembly Bill 71 deal with subsequent drunk driving offenders in a number of ways.  AB 68 makes a second offense a misdemeanor and a fourth offense a felony. The bill also provides a person convicted of a fourth offense with the option of a reduced period of imprisonment if they complete a probation period that includes alcohol and other drug treatment.

Felony charges should become the norm when a third or fourth offense is involved, as the pattern of dangerous behavior is usually firmly established at that point.  AB 71 makes third-time drunk driving a felony, and subsequent offenses will lead to additional and higher penalties.  I am also a co-sponsor of  both AB 68 and AB 71. 

Finally, it should be more difficult for a convicted drunk driver to get behind the wheel again. Therefore, I will soon introduce legislation to prohibit convicted drunk drivers from purchasing or leasing a vehicle during the period when their license is suspended or revoked for drunk driving.  A person who does so would be guilty of a Class I felony. 

Further, under current law, a person whose driving privileges have been suspended or revoked as a result of a drunk driving offense is generally allowed to apply for and receive an occupational license to drive during restricted periods.  In most cases, repeat offenders must wait at least 15 days to become eligible for an occupational license.  However, some offenders are immediately eligible for an occupational license.  Another bill I will offer removes those exceptions, making the 15-day waiting period apply to all repeat offenders. 

People who choose to drink to excess then get behind the wheel jeopardize the lives of everyone on the road, including themselves.  While the Legislature can take steps to create more stringent drunk driving laws, those laws are only a part of the solution, and only as good as those who choose to follow them.  We all play a role in correcting this problem, and I look forward to the day when we can prevent alcohol-related tragedies, and keep Wisconsin's roads safe for all.


Senator Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707-7882 or by calling toll-free 1 (800) 578-1457.  He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or online at www.senatorkedzie.com


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