Wednesday, October 27, 2010

WI AG Van Hollen: no misdemeanors for first-time OWI drivers

Two things you should know about Wisconsin and its Attorney General JB Van Hollen:

First: did you know that Wisconsin is the only state in the U.S. that doesn't criminalize first-time OWI offenses? When you commit an OWI, though you do receive a harsh punishment, it's not technically considered a "crime" but rather a "municipal violation."

Second: did you know only one candidate for Attorney General this year, Scott Hassett, supports making first-time OWI offenses a crime, while current AG JB Van Hollen believes that enforcement of such a law, a law that every other state in the country executes without question, would be too costly to enforce?

Whether or not it's too costly doesn't matter much to the families of those who have died at the hands of a drunk driver. More than 200 lives were lost last year due to drunk driving, with nearly 4,000 injuries the result of the deadly practice. With so much talk of cutting programs and moving our spending priorities elsewhere, you'd think that our own Attorney General would be willing to at least push for the state to address this issue. But not JB Van Hollen.

Driving while under the influence of alcohol is a reckless choice: if someone makes that choice, they ought to be held accountable to a standard higher than a municipal violation. That Wisconsin is the only state in the country that doesn't use a misdemeanor as a deterrent to drunk driving is telling, given the fact that our state has the highest drunk driving rate in the nation.

Forty-five percent of all accidents on Wisconsin's roads are due to alcohol being a factor. Imagine cutting that number down significantly if we simply created a new way to stave off would-be offenders. Upping the penalties for first-time drunk drivers would cause many to rethink whether they should be driving after their fourth or fifth drink.

Yes, there are stiff penalties already in place for first-time offenders, including forfeiture of license for up to 9 months. But these deterrents are clearly not working for Wisconsin. Adding an additional penalty of having a misdemeanor on your record would cause people to step back even further, to consider their actions a bit more, before making what could be the stupidest decision of their lives.

Vote Scott Hassett for Attorney General this coming Tuesday (or earlier!). Van Hollen's priorities won't protect the lives of those on Wisconsin's roads.

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