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Update for Wisconsin drunk driving laws proposed

A Wisconsin senator and state representative are planning to introduce a proposal that would toughen state drunk driving laws. Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) and Sen. Alberta Darling's (R-River Hills) legislation increases penalties for first-time OWI arrests, repeat offenders and "super drunk" drivers.

The lawmakers noted that more than 180 fatal car accidents in Wisconsin were traced to alcohol in 2011. Milwaukee law enforcers recorded over 30 incidents of wrong-way driving in Milwaukee during 2012. Many of the impaired drivers responsible for severe injuries and wrongful deaths had previous OWI convictions.

The proposal's authors believe Wisconsin's Act 100 drunk-driving laws need revision. First-time offenders currently are not required to attend a court hearing. Repeat offenders may not be charged with felonies without multiple OWI convictions. State laws include no minimum penalty for homicides caused by intoxicated drivers.

Ott and Darling's measure would transform first-time OWI arrests into criminal acts for drivers with excessively high blood alcohol content readings. A driver whose BAC level is 0.15 or more would fall into a "super drunk" category. First-time suspects would have to make a court appearance for any drunk-driving charge.

The new measure is also pushing for felony charges against drivers with a third OWI conviction. Current laws impose felony charges for a fourth OWI conviction in a five-year period. The proposal would guarantee vehicle seizures after a third OWI offense.

Minimum sentences would be instituted for drunk drivers in accidents involving injuries or death. Prison sentences of up to three years for injury crashes and 10 years for fatalities would be mandatory.

The legislators want increased penalties to act as drunk-driving deterrents on behalf of victims. Neither of the lawmakers thinks the proposed changes to criminal laws will solve the problem of drunk driving entirely.

Wisconsin civil courts provide a separate justice for OWI accident victims. Plaintiffs can pursue damages for financial losses in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits.

Source: jsonline.com, "Drunken driving laws fail us," Jim Ott and Alberta Darling, Dec. 26, 2012

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