Drunk Driving Laws in Wisconsin Unique

Drunk-driving concept, gavel with car keys by a glass of whiskey
Drunk Driving Laws in Wisconsin Unique

Drunk drivers pose a risk to all that travel on or near roadways in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, drunk driving in the state remains a significant threat to public safety.

While the state has drunk driving laws to curb drivers operating vehicles while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, the laws are not the country’s most strict. Wisconsin’s complex drunk driving laws involve many scenarios and options for the court when determining penalties for this offense.

What Is an OWI in Wisconsin?

Drunk-driving concept, gavel with car keys by a glass of whiskey

There are various terms that a state may use to describe a drunk driving offense. In Wisconsin, drunk driving falls under OWI or Operating While Intoxicated. Wisconsin defines a driver as operating while intoxicated if their BAC equals .08 or higher.

However, OWI laws encompass and make it illegal to operate a vehicle while using any controlled substance. Additionally, an officer can find that a driver is still OWI when under the legal limit if they exhibit signs of intoxication. When it comes to juveniles, there is no legal amount of alcohol acceptable. No driver under 21 should have any alcohol in their system when operating and driving a motor vehicle in Wisconsin.

Does OWI Differ From a DUI?

Often, OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) and DUI (Driving Under the Influence) are terms used to describe a drunk driver. While, in most instances, the terms can refer to the same behaviors by a driver, there are some notable differences.

For instance, OWI is a broader term and can give officers more leeway when determining whether or not to cite or arrest an individual for operating a vehicle while drunk. Operating a vehicle can be different than driving a vehicle.

For a DUI, the individual often must have the vehicle in motion for an offense to occur. Operation of a vehicle, however, could have a different legal interpretation than driving, such as having the keys in the ignition, the car on, or attempting to begin to drive.

Can a Drunk Driver Face Incarceration for a First-Time OWI in Wisconsin?

One of the key distinctions of Wisconsin drunk driving laws in comparison to many other states is that for many first-time offenders stopped for an OWI, the violation is not a crime, and for most first-time offenders, there is no threat of jail time.

Second-time offenders are also not likely to get any jail time for an OWI offense in Wisconsin if their prior offense occurred more than ten years ago. Many argue that these lack of strict measures and soft penalties do not work to prevent drunk drivers from becoming repeat offenders.

Additionally, many people may view the drunk driving laws of Wisconsin as a free pass for a first or second offense, which may not strongly discourage drivers from engaging in behaviors that could endanger the public in the future.

The only instances in which a driver may receive jail time for a first offense of an OWI are when the driver has a minor child in the vehicle at the time of the stop, or the driver causes an injury or death as a result of an accident.

Possible Penalties for Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated in Wisconsin

The penalties for OWI or drunk driving in Wisconsin vary depending on various factors. The frequency of the offenses, the parties involved in the stop, and whether anyone suffers an injury or death from an accident are all considerations a court will take into account when establishing a penalty for an OWI conviction.

Penalties for OWI in Wisconsin can include incarceration, fines, license revocation, IID, loss of occupational licenses, or rehabilitation programs.

Examples of possible penalties in an OWI case can include:

  • First offense OWI. This can include fines ranging from $150 to $300, revocation of license between six and nine months, sobriety program, and/ or court-ordered IID.
  • Second offense OWI. If the second offense was less than ten years, penalties could include fines from $350 to $1,100, incarceration from 5 days to 6 months, revocation of license between 12 to 18 months, court-ordered IID, and/or sobriety program. If the second offense occurred more than ten years ago, the penalties are in line with the first-time offenders.
  • Third offense OWI. This can include fines from $600 to $2,000, between 45 days to 12 months of incarceration, and 2-3 years of license revocation. Lessening of sentence length can occur with sobriety program attendance, a Safe Street option, or an IID.

Can Having a Child Present During an OWI Stop Impact the Sentencing of an Offender?

The above penalties for driving under the influence in Wisconsin would not take into account if a child was present in the vehicle when the traffic stop relating to an OWI occurs.

If the driver suspected of OWI has a child in the car at the time of the incident, the penalties double in severity for each offense. For example, while jail is not a common penalty for a first-offender OWI in Wisconsin, if the individual has a child in the car, they may receive a jail sentence from five days to six months and a license revocation of 12 to 18 months.

What Is an IID?

Ignition interlock devices are machines installed into vehicles that measure a driver’s alcohol levels before allowing a vehicle to start. If the device identifies a blood alcohol content beyond what is allowable at 0.02, then the device will not allow the vehicle to start. These devices record when the individual tests and the results of those tests before driving their vehicle.

In most cases, when a court orders a driver convicted of drunk driving to use an IID as a condition of their penalty, the driver must cover the costs of the installation, fees, and use of the device for the term set.

How Do Wisconsin Courts Use IIDs in OWI Cases?

While a judge has some discretion in certain cases on choosing when to order an IID and for how long, there are cases when the laws indicate a court must order an IID for an OWI offender. Most commonly, a court will order an IID for use for a minimum of one year in combination with other penalties after an OWI conviction.

Instances where a court must enter an order for IID in an OWI case include:

  • When a first-time offender’s BAC during a stop exceeds 0.15
  • When it is a repeat offender
  • When anyone refuses to submit to a chemical test during a traffic stop

What Is a Safe Streets Option in an OWI Case?

A court can refer a defendant to the Safe Streets program for rehabilitation services. Safe streets offer treatment, education, and rehabilitation services to individuals that may benefit from the program and as an attempt to deter future repeat offenses of operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

In some instances, the Safe Street program may provide options at the court’s discretion to a defendant in place of serving a longer jail sentence.

Are the Drunk Driving Rules Different for Commercial Drivers in Wisconsin?

Driving a commercial vehicle while under the influence of alcohol is a serious offense that could cost a driver their ability to work as a commercial driver. There is no tolerance for alcohol consumption by a driver on the job along Wisconsin’s roadways.

The penalties for OWI as a commercial driver can immediately impact a driver’s ability to work. The penalties get considerably more severe the higher the BAC of a driver and when a driver is a repeat offender.

For example, the following are possible penalties for a commercial driver with alcohol in their system during a traffic stop:

  • Any alcohol in the system can result in a $10 fine and a 24-hour long order that does not allow a driver to legally operate their commercial vehicle with their CDL.
  • A first offense for alcohol levels between 0.04 and less than 0.08 can result in a fine of $150 to $300 and a one to three-year disqualification of a driver’s CDL license.
  • A second and third offense between 0.04 and 0.08 can result in significantly higher fines, jail times, and a lifetime disqualification of a CDL.

Wisconsin Drunk Driving Statistics

Drunk driving remains a rampant problem throughout Wisconsin. In just one year, nearly 28,000 arrests for OWI will take place in Wisconsin. Of the cases that proceed to court, approximately 92 percent of the defendant’s cases end in a guilty verdict. Wisconsin estimates, based on driving records of resident drivers, that nearly half a million drivers on the roadways have at least one OWI conviction.

On a national scale, nearly 10,000 victims lose their lives in alcohol-related accidents. Wisconsin reports 1,928 deaths of victims harmed by a driver operating while intoxicated over ten years.

What Should You Do if a Wisconsin Drunk Driving Accident Injures You?

If you are an unfortunate victim of a drunk driver in Wisconsin, you can suffer serious to life-threatening injuries. In an instant, a drunk driver can permanently change your life and your future. As a drunk driving accident victim in Wisconsin, you are eligible to seek compensation for your losses from the driver and/or parties responsible.

Take action as soon as you can after a drunk driving collision.

The quicker you act to protect your rights, the more you can avoid potential complications and delays in seeking compensation for your damages.

  1.  Follow your doctor’s orders. Stay abreast of your treatment and condition following the crash. Maintain all appointments and follow the advice of your doctor to reach the maximum recovery possible for your drunk driving accident injuries.
  2.  Collect evidence and information available to you. The paperwork following a drunk driving accident can accumulate quickly. Set aside a safe location where you can protect and store vital documentation that can help with your claim in the days and weeks to come.
  3. Contact a drunk driving accident attorney. If you are unsure about your legal rights and damages or want help to take action against the parties responsible, contact a lawyer to talk about your case and the losses the law may entitle you to.

What Kind of Compensation Could You Be Eligible for in a Drunk Driving Accident Claim?

If you are a victim of injuries due to a drunk driver, you can seek compensation for your monetary and non-monetary losses. The court process for any possible criminal charges relating to a driver’s violation of laws regarding OWI is apart from any claim or court process you can pursue in a civil court. An attorney can help you determine whether you can file an insurance claim or lawsuit for your damages after a drunk driving crash caused by another driver.

Common damages available to drunk driving victims may include:

  • Medical costs and expenses, including future medical needs
  • Income losses from missed wages following the accident to future loss of earnings due to injury
  • Pain and suffering related to your physical injuries, emotional or mental trauma relating to the accident, and aftermath
  • Wrongful death compensation for funeral, burial, and other losses to a family after a drunk driving death

Why Do You Need a Lawyer for a Drunk Driving Accident Insurance Claim?

Russell Nicolet
Russell Nicolet, Drunk Driving Lawyer

As a drunk driver victim, the aftermath you face can be confusing. When you suffer injuries in an accident caused by a driver facing an OWI, the criminal case can involve serious charges against the defendant. Additionally, you have a right to seek compensation.

Still, a driver’s charge or conviction does not guarantee that an insurance company will automatically pay the maximum damages available to you. Proving fault and losses can be harder than you expect in a drunk driving accident.

A drunk driving accident attorney can support you in getting through this trying time. While you focus on your injuries and move ahead as best you can after a drunk driving crash, an attorney can handle the process of filing an insurance claim. A drunk driving accident lawyer can offer a free case consultation to discuss your legal options.