Wisconsin’s German heritage may explain where this perverse drinking culture began, but it cannot be the reason for such lax alcohol laws. There is nothing wrong with putting back a few cold ones after a long day, but did you know Wisconsin leads the nation in binge drinking—which is defined as having five drinks in a sitting for a man and four for a woman? People in Wisconsin are more likely to drive drunk than anywhere else in the United States, and this state has the highest incidence of drunken driving deaths in the United States. Not only that, but minors can legally drink at bars if accompanied by their legal guardian.
This board—as a group of young college students—has nothing against drinking. We like to party just as much as the next person. However, when drunk people get behind the wheel of a car it creates a dangerous environment for everyone.
Recently, a set of bills was put before the state Legislature that would essentially crack down on drunk driving. Without going into too much detail, the general theme of the bills is to increase fines and make some offenses actual crimes depending on the number of operating while intoxicated tickets received and the level of intoxication.
While this is all very commendable, this board would like to see more. Given the fact that drinking is ingrained in the Wisconsin culture, it is important to protect its citizens from the consequences of drunk driving. The first offense should not be just a slap on the wrist. The new proposals would require first offenders to appear in court, which is great. This forces them to think about their actions and the consequences that could have resulted.
Furthermore, we encourage legislators to consider adding mandatory community service and alcohol-related classes to be taken by first offenders. The idea here is to reverse the drinking culture in this state and that cannot be accomplished by just administering fines and jail time.
This board would also like to see harsher penalties for repeat offenders. Second-time offenders and so on should be at risk of increased jail time, license revocation and the installation of breathalyzers in their cars. These should all be considered minimum penalties for those with second offenses or more. We cannot allow drivers with repeat offenses back on the road in six months. Maybe they didn’t hurt anybody that time, but are you willing to bet your own life they won’t next time?
Also, there shouldn’t be forgiveness for those who haven’t had an incident in the previous 10 years. As it currently stands, second offenders who haven’t been caught driving drunk in the past decade have a lesser penalty than those who have been caught within last 10 years. Why? Why is 10 years an acceptable amount of time for somebody to be forgiven for a drunken driving offense? These offenses should be permanent and a second offense should be a second offense. It’s that simple.
Where it gets tricky are those people with many OWI offenses. When this is the case, it is not simply just another mistake. At this point, drinking is a serious health problem and needs to be addressed. This board would like to see some focus on therapeutic solutions to drinking. As stated earlier, the Wisconsin drinking problem is a cultural issue. We cannot expect to fix the problem by merely throwing people in jail. Sure, when it’s your third OWI maybe a few months in jail will straighten you out, but when we are looking at eight, nine, even 10 OWI offenses, jail is not the solution. Alcohol therapy is the only real way we will see progress in changing the drinking culture in Wisconsin.
While the new proposals are in fact a step in the right direction, there is still much to be done. Increasing fines and jail time is not going to fix the problem Wisconsin faces. Taking preventative measures like license revocation and installing car breathalyzers will help keep offenders off the road, while therapy and community involvement will keep people sober.
The Daily Cardinal Editorial Board consists of seven members and represents the views of the paper. Please send all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.