Hit the road, not the bars


This state has more than its fair share of alcohol-fused folklore – both hilarious and tragic. With it comes constant cries for reform, from the left and the right, as Wisconsin continues to lead the nation in drunk driving, alcohol consumption and binge drinking. Although I must note, unfortunately, that our place as the heaviest consumers of brandy was recently surrendered to California, a state with a population nearly seven times greater than ours.

With all the noise being made about bar raids in Madison, nobody has considered the idea that, like most Wisconsinites, cops like to hit the bars. Pretty girls, pretty guys, a couple clandestine shots of tequila for the road. And of course, for most police officers, it takes a lot of nerve to ask your partner to turn on Lady Gaga in the squad car. It’s simply easier to hit up the Nitty Gritty.

That’s the pattern you see throughout the entire state. Lawmakers, cops, prosectors. There is very little evidence that any member of the Wisconsin establishment cares about meaningful change in the state’s tradition of substance abuse. All you have to do to realize that is look at the state’s OWI laws.

Wisconsin currently has the most lenient drunk driving laws in the country. In no other state are five offenses required for DUI to be charged as a felony. Although harsh punishments are not necessarily the answer to the problem, it is nonetheless ironic that a state that goes to such immoral extremes to imprison drug offenders would be so cool with the most dangerous drug offense possible. Granted, crimes committed after an entertaining evening with lobbyists cannot possibly be regarded as equal to those committed on grimy street corners in Milwaukee. As our distinguished attorney general put it, ““There are a great number of people — people I know personally — who have first offenses. I don’t consider them criminals, and I wouldn’t want them to be tagged that way for the rest of their lives for having made what can legitimately be called a mistake.”

Funny, “a mistake” is usually the term I would use to describe smoking crack.

A bill currently sitting in a Senate committee seeks to address the barrage of criticism from the public about the drunk driving debacle. The bill would amend current law so that a person with one or more OWI conviction would not be allowed to drive a car with a BAC of higher than 0.02. Current law only stipulates that for persons convicted three or more times.

This is a flawed approach. The prevalence of drunk driving does not come from people assuming that if they are pulled over they will not be drunk enough to be arrested – it comes from people assuming they will not be pulled over in the first place. What is needed is more enforcement. Cops need to get out of bars, and on to the roads, where they can stop alcohol violations that actually do kill people on a daily basis.

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2 Responses to “Hit the road, not the bars”

  1. Eric Schmidt Says:

    I hear a lot of people talk about Wisconsin’s alcohol problem or substance abuse problem or drunk driving problem. The only person I’ve ever heard correctly identify ours as an “alcoholism problem” is Kathleen Falk. It’s not exactly fashionable to praise Falk, but her plans to prevent alcohol abuse at the middle-school level are right on the money.

    And that’s what Wisconsin has, after all — an alcoholism problem. Something happens to this discussion once it becomes about a public health epidemic, instead of just about bad behavior or “mistakes.” When public health becomes the issue, we might stop being fascistic and obsessed about the wrong things. The bar raid and the police crackdown give the illusion of addressing the problem, but when more people develop alcoholism every year than can be filtered out through police presence, other steps are necessary. For example, I know more than a few people who (in hindsight) might have appreciated hearing about AA early on in college.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Wisconsin will be hard pressed to find a solution to the drunk driving problem until we address the cultural problems that lurk behind our drinking.

    Wisconsin kids play in the backyard at birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the most revered holiday of them all- Packer game day- as mom, dad, Uncle Jim and Aunt Susie get hammered in the dining room complaining about taxes, the price of gas, and of course, the Vikings.

    Wisconsin teens find ways to slip booze from the parents liquor cabinets in middle school, and are very impressed with themselves that they “outwitted” mom and dad by putting water in the vodka bottle. For the most part, mom and dad take a “oh kids will be kids” approach and ignore their ever-watery spirits because it’s easier to buy more than to try and rail against the evils of drinking while simultaneously covering up the smell of whiskey on their breath from last night’s fish fry.

    Wisconsin high schoolers throw parties under the protective eye of the farm parents who allow the kids to drink in the basement as long as everyone puts their keys in a safe place (although since Mom and Dad go to bed early in order to get up for chores, many kids find their keys and drive home anyway.)

    The Wisconsin young adults who haven’t succumbed to an alcoholic lifestyle by this point, may perhaps then attend the shining beacon of Wisconsin education, UW-Madison, where they eagerly anticipate house parties, beer pong, Halloween, Badger Game Day, and this strange all out drunk fest called Mifflin.

    After growing up with a happy-go-lucky attitude towards alcohol, how can we expect adults to all of a sudden recognize the danger that alcohol presents? After 25 years of ingrained indifference towards alcohols negatives, how can we demand citizens to know a defined limit beyond which they are a danger to themselves and others? Its hard to teach an old Badger new tricks…

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