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.