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One More For The Road: Wisconsin Flunks Sobriety Test

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Anyone who's ever driven across Wisconsin on its beautiful two-laners knows that in many areas you're more likely to find a rural tavern than you are a church, or even a gas station.

Wisconsin remains the only state where the first drunk-driving offense is a traffic violation, not even a crime, and it was the last state to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit from to 0.08. And it's legal for children to drink alcohol at the bar if with a parent.

The state, after all, has been a stronghold for breweries and the brewing industry, as well as binge drinkers big and small (and cheese- and sausage-eaters).

As the Associated Press outlines in a report, the state has a long history of lawmakers themselves arrested for drunk driving, which might have something to do with the state's reluctance to really crack down on the problem. Jeff Wood, a state representative currently still in office, has been charged with three DUIs in a ten-month period; he likely will save his seat and avoid jail time. He's just the latest in a long string of lawmakers and state officials to be forgiven for drunk driving.

And according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) assessment on alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, Wisconsin is in the upper third for alcohol-impaired fatalities related to total fatalities.

In 2008, a whopping 42.4 percent of Wisconsin's traffic fatalities were considered alcohol-impaired. That's higher than any other state, including a number of states in Appalachia that have, like it or not, more of a pop-culture association with drinking, driving, and crashing. Utah ranked most sober, with 18.5 percent of its crashes alcohol-impaired. Likewise a U.S. Health and Human Services report found that 26.4 percent of Wisconsin's drivers had driven while impaired at least once in the past year—versus about 15 percent nationally and 9.5 percent in Utah.

Wisconsin also hasn't laid down the law in any form regarding talking or texting behind the wheel, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

'How Drunk Am I?' iPhone app

'How Drunk Am I?' iPhone app

It's all a little surprising, why a state that's known for being more socially conscious at times hasn't with drinking and driving. For instance, New Hampshire, another state with a surprisingly high rate of alcohol-influenced crashes and fatalities, has taken action by restricting all driving privileges for six months with the first offense. Ignition interlocks are required there for both repeat offenders and high-blood-alcohol first offenders. Wisconsin, on the other hand, like some states, has a six-month suspension with the first offense (the moving violation), but driving privileges can be (and usually are) restored.

[Associated Press]

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Comments (17)
  1. Jeff Wood was OWI--he was under the influence of prescription drugs, not alcohol, for at least two of those stops. Now our ex DA, that's another story. She was hammered and drove about 80 miles before being pulled over.
    It's noon somewhere. Time for the first Leinie's of the day.
    Welcome to Wisconsin. Set the wayback machine for 1965.
     
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  2. Instead of just regurgitating statistics about the percentage of fatal crashes that were "alcohol-impaired", how about doing a little research into what that term means? If you do, you'll find that law enforcement loves to use it as a catch-all, even though the main cause of the crash may have been something else ..... kind of like the overuse of "excessive speed" as a cause.
     
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  3. I grew up in Wisconsin. The state was dominated by the Progressive party - which meant and still means liberal politics. Kides under 21 could drink "Near Beer" which had a lower alcohol content. Milwaukee was the beer capitol of the US.
     
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  4. Seems to me like they just aren't letting the crazy moms at MADD dictate alcohol policy. I wish every state had the balls to suggest we've swung too far towards criminalization. And why *shouldn't* parents decide if their kids can enjoy a drink.
     
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  5. if drunk driving was a crime-then we have about 300 Million criminals in the US. back off the laws, this country is worse then communism. non-stop laws about absolutely everything.
     
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  6. This article reads like it was written by a 19th century Quaker.
     
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  7. You're obviously not from Wisconsin.
     
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  8. The statement about allowing parents to give their children alcoholic beverages is not only distorted (in a bar? also, at home, in a restaurant, or anywhere else that sells alcohol) but it has nothing to do with this article, which seems to be mostly focused driving while impaired or distracted. Are we pushing to bring back Prohibition? Are we pushing sobriety and teetotaling as "good" and alcohol consumption as "evil?" Is Car Connection now branching out to issuing judgments about peoples' parenting decisions?
     
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  9. It's legal all over the world for kids (if by kids you mean people under 18) to drink in bars, sometimes without a parent. Not sure why you are bringing that up here, or what it has to do with drunk driving.
     
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  10. See the above posts on MADD and what "alcohol-impaired" means. Frankly this is a reason to move to wisconson, it treats it's residents as adults!
     
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  11. For some reason, I don't find it comforting that 81.5% of crashes in Utah are caused by SOBER drivers...
     
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  12. I believe that all states should allow bars and restaurants to serve underage citizens if they're with their parents. How are parents supposed to teach their children responsible drinking habits if they're not allowed to have a beer in a safe environment with them? The reason for the excessive alcohol abuse on college campuses is that kids are not taught responsible drinking habits, and go crazy once they're away from their parents and can get away with drinking. It is ridiculous for a country to say that a father cannot have a beer with his son at a restaurant. Lower the beer and wine age to 18, enforce zero tolerance policies for drinking and driving for under 21s (They get a DUI if they blow anything above a 0.00, many states have this already) and use the increased tax revenue to fight drunk drivers. Either that or consider under-21s to be minors in every way (Draft, being tried in a court system, legal obligations and responsiblities).
     
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  13. Boo Louis yaaaa beer. to the members of MADD, you people are a bigger buzz kill than buzz killington. btw I had me a couple three 10 or 12 before i wrote this!! happy trails.
    A.W.
     
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  14. ... and Wisconsin is still the promise land. No messin' with God's country. LOL
     
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  15. The author of this article does not realize that Wisconsin is more responsible about teaching its people how to manage themselves. I grew up in Wisconsin and then moved to Chicago and I can tell you that people in Illinois are not mature enough to manage themselves therefore the state must do it for them. Look at European countries for a comparison. Wisconsin is more like them than any other state.
     
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  16. kids should be allowed to drink with their parents, hopefully it will teach reponsable drinking.
     
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  17. While I won't argue with those of you who think Wisconsin does a better job (culturally) with alcohol education (and yes, Wisconsin might be closest to Europe in that respect), it's worth noting that in much of Europe there's near ZERO tolerance for driving under the influence. Lost somewhere in this issue is that examples need to be set, and that drunk drivers -- whether they're politicians or corner-bar lushes -- should pay for putting the public at large in danger. It's a dangerous precedent to see high-profile offenders emerge, license intact.
     
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