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Drinking and driving remains a serious problem for Wisconsin motorists. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a nonprofit organization committed to curbing the illegal act, is seeking to change that.

MADD, which works across the United States and Canada, is specifically pushing for harsher penalties for first-time offenders in Wisconsin. The organization is asking lawmakers to require the installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) after a first operating while intoxicated (OWI) conviction. Doing so, the group claims, could significantly decrease the rate of repeat offenses.

What does an ignition interlock device do?

IIDs are often a supplemental penalty for an OWI conviction. The devices attach directly to an offender’s vehicle and gauge their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) via a built-in breathalyzer. If a driver has alcohol on their breath, an IID will prevent them from starting their vehicle. These devices also log each breath sample.

Offenders must also pay for the cost of an IID installation. This can be an expensive fee on top of already sizable fines. MADD argues that the burden of an IID could serve as an effective drunk driving deterrent.

Statistics from neighboring states make for a compelling case

As the law currently stands, initial OWI offenses can still carry severe consequences. A first conviction can mean major fines and a 6-month driver’s license suspension. IIDs, however, are only required when a driver has a BAC of .15 percent. MADD is looking to instead impose that penalty on all first-time drunk drivers.

32 other states currently require IIDs for initial drunk driving offenses. Neighboring states such as Illinois that employ this law have seen significant decreases in repeat offenses – in 2017 the devices thwarted 6,361 drunk driving attempts.

MADD’s representatives recently met with Wisconsin lawmakers to lobby for this change to state law. It will be interesting to monitor any developments that take place in the coming future. As Wisconsin’s OWI laws already carry harsh penalties, those facing criminal charges could benefit from consulting with experienced legal counsel.

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