Wisconsin ASSE Calls for Strengthened DWI Laws

Wisconsin members of the American Society of Safety Engineers on Wedsneday called for Wisconsin legislators to strengthen the state's drunk driving laws noting that not only are the state's roadways unsafe but the current law's leniency plays a major part in the tragic fact that transportation accidents are the top cause of on-the-job deaths.

"Wisconsin's current drunk driving laws are contributing to cultural attitudes that do not embrace safety on the road. Impaired driving laws have long been so lax in Wisconsin that they have done little to prevent the actions of repeat offenders or discourage their behavior. This must change," wrote Brian Well, president of ASSE's Wisconsin Chapter, in a letter to state legislators. "It is time to put teeth in the impaired driving laws and make them a true deterrent to help change the cultural acceptance of impaired driving, and, to save lives. . . .

"Building a safety-minded culture involves clear understanding of problem behaviors, organized educational efforts, and stiff consequences for non-compliance. It also requires strong leadership to positively engage those who do not know the rules or think that rules should not apply to them. This kind of leadership is needed in Wisconsin now," Well wrote.

Well noted a recent tragic incident in Oconomowoc, Wis., in which a three-time-convicted impaired driver killed an expectant mother and her 10-year-old daughter, saying the incident has outraged the people of Wisconsin. "This is just one tragic example," he wrote. "The current law sets the stage for more such tragedies, and ASSE's members will no longer tolerate these inadequate consequences for potentially deadly behavior."

The society's Wisconsin, Badgerland, and Nicolet Chapters are asking state legislators to enact the following measures to combat drunk driving: 1) the second conviction of impaired driving should become a criminal offense punishable with mandatory jail time; 2) the third offense of impaired driving should be made a felony, rather than the fifth offense; and, 3) repeat offenders should be required to install ignition interlock devices (IIDs) in all vehicles registered in their names, at their own expense. ASSE members note that this should also be required of first-time offenders with extraordinarily high blood alcohol content (.16 or higher).

The statistics speak for themselves, Well wrote. In 2006 there were 305 alcohol-related deaths and 5,654 alcohol-related injuries on Wisconsin roads in which the driver had blood alcohol content of .08 or higher. Wisconsin Department of Transportation statistics show that alcohol plus alcohol/speed accounted for 41.6 percent of all fatal crashes in 2006, while alcohol alone accounted for 21.7 percent of all fatalities. Beyond death, pain, and suffering, the state's traffic crash statistics show alcohol-related crashes in 2006 were responsible for $2.715 billion in economic loss, much of those costs paid by taxpayers. Well said that this leniency not only endangers pedestrians and drivers, it also endangers road construction workers, already at risk. In 2005, 1,074 people were killed in work zones across the country, he noted.

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