Lawmakers look to crack down on drunken driving - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

Lawmakers look to crack down on drunken driving

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LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) – When a person's driving appears to be influenced by alcohol, law enforcement will not hesitate to pull that driver over.

This year, from New Years Eve 2012 to New Years Day 2013, Wisconsin State Patrol issued 36 operating while intoxicated citations, according to Donald Lyden, a safety research analyst with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

That's the same number of citations issued last year, he said.

New Years Eve 2010 through New Years Day 2011, state patrol issued 52 citations.

But the lower number of OWI's during the last couple of years doesn't mean less drunk drivers are on the roads, Lyden said.

Factors, like budgetary cuts, put fewer troopers on the roads, he said, adding a slow economy means many drivers are not traveling as far on interstates and highways.

Coulee Council on Addiction Executive Director Keith Lease said there are many reasons why people have multiple drunken driving offenses. They all trace to how alcohol affects a person's decision making while drunk.

"When a person is sober we can know drinking and driving is a bad idea," Lease said. "I don't want to hurt somebody. We can give the bartender our keys, right?"

"After I have enough alcohol, or drink enough alcohol, that frontal lobe get shuts down and then we ask for our keys back," Lease said.

Wisconsin has some of the most lenient laws on drunk driving in the county. But that may change with the new legislature.

Some lawmakers are announcing plans to crack down.

According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, under current state law, a fourth OWI is considered a felony only if it happened within five years of an earlier offense.

A first drunken driving offense is just a civil violation. It becomes a misdemeanor if a child under the age of 16 is in the car.

State Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon, is working on legislation to criminalize a person's first drunken driving offense if their blood alcohol level is above 0.15.

He said he also wants to make a third OWI classified as a felony. Currently, it is a misdemeanor.

Ott wants to increase the fines for all drunken driving offenses.

"We have a problem in Wisconsin. Too many people drive drunk. We have too many people that are injured," Ott said.

Ott will introduce six different bills to the state legislature this term. He's introducing them separately in the hope that at least some provisions will be passed.

They will be circulated around the Legislature for co-sponsorship as early as next week.

Bills to strengthen fines for drinking and driving went to the assembly last session but were voted down because of cost.

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