The June 8 edition of The Gazette featured columns on the Opinion Page written by Craig and Parker high school students participating in the Washington and Madison seminar programs.
A technical problem left out one of the student’s op-ed pieces, and I am glad to present that work in my column. Here is Matthew Nelson’s opinion on drunken driving, written as part of his Madison Seminar experience:
In Wisconsin, drunken driving is a continuing serious and deadly problem that can be prevented. Currently, Wisconsin is the only state that considers first-offense driving while intoxicated a civil offense.
The more lenient civil versus criminal offense could be the reason why there are so many multiple repeat offenders in Wisconsin. In a world today with modern technology and apps such as Uber and Lyft, driving while intoxicated is easily avoidable. So why should a first case be a civil offense?
While conducting my research, I saw perspectives from both sides of the issue. If DUI laws were more strict, the alcohol industry could lose profits because of the fear of a drunken driving penalty. With a struggling alcohol industry, the economy would later be impacted.
“Wisconsin has an honest approach towards DUI cases,” said former Madison area Judge Todd Muerer. “Although, if DUI laws were more strict, Wisconsin roads could become much safer than today.”
State legislators are working toward stricter laws.
“We are working towards a first offense being a misdemeanor and to see a judge in court,” said Nick Janis, an administrative assistant to state Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee. “Treatment like BadgerCare could help limit the repetitive cases.
“A breathalyzer can be implemented into the design of cars to lock them from operating if the operator is over the limit to drive,” Janis said.
For drunken driving to be limited, Wisconsin needs to have stricter laws. Having a first offense be a civil offense is barely a slap on the wrist, which is why there are so many repeat offenders in Wisconsin.
Drunken driving is very dangerous and can lead to a person losing his or her life because of it. To keep Wisconsin drivers safe, something needs to change with DUI laws.
I’m encouraged Matthew and other young adults are aware of the seriousness of driving drunk. As he points out, treatment should be a component of measures taken to reduce OWI. Driving is not the problem, drinking and then driving is the problem.
We often read stories about people arrested for multiple OWI offenses. It’s obvious to most of us that when someone is arrested for OWI for the seventh or eighth time, for example, the laws prohibiting OWI are not working as a deterrent for that person.
People don’t wake up in the morning and decide to get a seventh OWI ticket. They are, most likely, suffering from alcoholism, an addiction illness that’s treatable in the same way addicts are treated for other drug abuse illnesses.
Strict laws need not only to be enacted but enforced. That includes enforcement by the courts.
One reason someone can be arrested seven times for OWI but not incarcerated and offered treatment is that the case was bargained down to first or second offense with lesser sentences.
The main reason extraordinary measures have been taken in the midst of COVID-19 is to save lives. As Matthew suggests, it’s also time to take strong and effective action to save the thousands of lives lost each year resulting from OWI.