Lower BAC Standard Sees Little Support in Wisconsin By Andrew Mishlove on July 18, 2013

Last month, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended to the government that the legal blood alcohol standard for drunk driving be lowered from the current 0.08 to 0.05, a change that over 100 countries have implemented recently.

Wisconsin however is not necessarily behind the measure.

Proponents of the change say that alcohol related crash rates from the middle of the 1990s to 2011 decreased by half, and that by lowering the BAC standard an even bigger reduction may be seen.

According to the Legislative Reference Bureau, alcohol related crash rates decreased by half from the mid-1990s to 2011. The Bureau attributed the rate decrease to campaigns to increase public awareness, decreased drinking away from home because of the economy, and changes in penalties and drunk driving offender restrictions.

The State Patrol Transportation Safety Bureau Director Sandra Huxtable told the Tribune that changing the BAC standard could further reduce the number of alcohol-related crashes.

While Huxtable says that a lower BAC standard would not put an increased burden on law enforcement, Marshfield Police Department Lt. Rick Gramza said it would indeed present challenges for police officers.

“Somebody won’t necessarily fail a standard field sobriety test at 0.05. Law enforcement will be challenged to prove why somebody at 0.05 needs to be arrested when they don’t fail a field sobriety test.”
Some question the effectiveness of the change, when the majority of those arrested for drunk driving have a BAC level of 0.12 or more. Portage County District Attorney Louis Molepske told the Tribune “[t]here needs to be a lot more vetting before we get to changing the law,” which he says could include a comprehensive analysis of the benefits of a lower standard, as well as expected costs, and public support.

Other Wisconsin Drunk Driving Initiatives

Lowering the BAC standard is not the only changes that could be coming to Wisconsin. Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) has also introduced a bill that would make a first-time OWI conviction a criminal offense if the driver had a BAC of 0.15 or more.

According to Fox 6 Now, more than 30,000 drivers are arrested on drunk-driving related charges each year, and many of them have a BAC of over 0.15. Ott told reporters that he expects that his bill “will be the most difficult of the bills to get passed.”

According to Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Ron Dague, the average BAC of those arrested in Wisconsin for drunk driving is 0.17, and he expects courtrooms to be flooded with offenders who will want to fight their case, as it could mean a criminal record.

OWI defense attorney Andrew Mishlove told reporters

“that should the bill pass the state is going to have to fund a lot more prosecutors, a lot more public defenders and a lot more judges.”
Ott said that he hopes that these stiffer penalties will help deter drunk driving in the state.

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