Friday, January 2, 2009

Decker wrong on DUI law

Between his stalling of and compromise on anti-smoking bills and now his recent statements about proposed new laws dealing with drunk driving offenses, I can't help but think of Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker as being kind of a tool. I believe he's wrong, anyway.

Wisconsin has a terrible drunk driving record, and some legislators, pushed on by a whole chorus of angry citizenry and organizations, are actually trying to tighten our state's laws on the matter. Decker, of course, has a thing or two to say about that:
The Weston Democrat said in an interview Wednesday that making a third drunken driving offense a felony would be "too severe," while allowing sobriety checkpoints is undemocratic.

"I just don't think stopping somebody without just cause is the way for us to work in a democracy," he said.

On third offense drunken driving, Decker said, "You could get one at 20 (years old), one at forty, and one at 60. That spans 40 years. Does that make you a felon? No."
I'm going to disagree with him on that one. Each time a person gets behind the wheel after tossing a few back, they put others in danger. I don't care if those instances are two weeks apart or two decades--it's the same danger. And if someone doesn't get the message that drinking and driving is unacceptable the first two times they get caught (not to mention all the times they do it without detection), then I think absolutely the third strike should be more severe.

I do agree that sobriety checkpoints smack of being undemocratic. The United States Supreme Court, in Michigan Department of State Police vs. Sitz, may have declared them to be constitutional, but it was on the somewhat dubious pretense of the slight Fourth Amendment infringement being outweighed by the good done for public safety. I haven't entirely made up my mind about this yet, but I can't help but feel like bending the safegaurds granted by the Constitution in the name of some unproven improvement in safety is a bit...wrongheaded.

But back to the issue of making a third OWI/DUI offense into a felony. Currently, Wisconsin has one of the worst drunk driving records in the nation, with 42 percent of all traffic fatalities involving an intoxicated driver. We read stories about people being arrested for their 6th, 7th, and even 8th offense. If some of those individuals had been charged with a felony on their third strike, it's far more likely that the subsequent incidents would have never occured.
Of the 1,010 drunken-driving arrests in 2008, a third were repeat offenders. Three of the arrests were for drivers racking up their ninth OWI arrests.
This is, simply put, completely unacceptable. And while I recognize that there will always be those people who insist on getting behind the wheel after drinking a bit too much, I also recognize that a good way to significantly cut down on that risk is to a) impose stiffer and longer-lasting penalties on offenders so they can't reoffend, and b) impose stiffer and longer-lasting penalties so that more people will be put off from offending in the first place.

We need comprehensive, no-bullshit laws on the books for dealing with this issue. It's not partisan, it's personal, and it's in everyone's best interest to see that it's done. Making sure Russ Decker listens to us, and failing that, no longer gets to be Senate Leader (or even a senator), is a good step along the way.


Unknown said...

I agree that getting drunk drivers off the road or treatment that works needs to be done.

I just don;t think it makes sense to make them felons. The judicial system is overloaded with non-violet prisoners. It started witn the US decided to get tough on drugs and crated mandatory sentences.

Putting drunk drivers in prison make keep them out of cars, but it also ruins their future because it is hard to get a job and ruins families and breaks them up because most prisoners don't have contact with their children while they are in prison.

A child who has parent that has been in prison is twice as likely to end up there themselves.

Prisonors that are released and don't get adequate assistance and don't change their life styles are likely to end up back in prison again (2/3 of them, according to Dane County United Way).

So, if we lock up habitual drunk drivers as felons and don't get them the treatment they need to change their lifestyle, shouldn't we expect 2/3 of them to drive drunk again?

They need some sort of mandatory treatment, not prison.

Emily said...

Bill - I agree with you that mandatory, effective treatment should be the number one priority for repeat offenders.

I also agree that we rely far to much on mandatory prison time for non-violent offenders, and that our jails are extremely overcrowded.

Perhaps there's a middle ground to be found in this. Make the legal ramifications of repeat offenses much, much more severe than they are now through larger fines, long-term mandatory treatment, revocation of license for a much longer period of time, and even some jail time when necessary. But jail should still be accompanied by treatment, you're right.

Anonymous said...

Ann Richards, long before she became governor, was a county commissioner in Travis County. She led the way instituting a treatment program that operated out of the Travis County work farm.

It may have saved my life, as well as other lives, because truer words were never spoken than your "not to mention all the times they do it without detection."

By the time she became governor, she was seeing to it that counties could get matching funds from the state if they set up similar programs.

Of course, when you-know-who was elected, that was one of the first things to go. Not tuff enuff on crime, don't you know. Ann Richards was someone who was in recovery that actually walked the walk. W? Well, let's just say he got his and didn't really care about anyone else.

John Das Binky said...

As someon relatively new to the state, and someone who's never felt a need to bone up on drunken driving laws, I've gotta admit that I was surprised that a SINGLE drunken driving conviction didn't count as a felony. I'm not a teetotaler, but I understand the concepts of cabs and designated drivers.

I'm all for criminalizing the hell out of drunk driving. If you don't want jail time, have the state seize your car. I'm all for treatment plans too, but I'm a bigger plan of penalities. Not to over-simplify it, but there are no excuses for drunk driving.

Anonymous said...

"About 41 percent of Wisconsin's traffic deaths in 2008 were alcohol-related, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration."

I'm not advocating drinking and driving, however the blogger has posted erroneous information by stating that in Wisconsin, 41% of its fatalities as being those caused by "intoxicated drivers".

The NHTSA definition of an "alcohol related traffic fatality" includes those deaths where a completely sober driver strikes and kills a pedestrian with any measurable amount of alcohol in the pedestrian's system.

Additionally, if a sober driver is driving a church van sized vehicle full of persons who have consumed any alcohol and that van crashes, those persons who were passengers in the van who died are counted for NHTSA purposes as "alcohol related traffic fatalities". Which basically means that even if drinkers utilize cabs, busess, designated drivers or walk, the basic statistics of traffic fatlities will always include those persons, making alcohol "RELATED" crashes impossible to prevent.

Additionally, as fluffed a statistic that it is, 41% of Wisconsin's crashes being alcohol RELATED, puts Wisconsin in the national average for such a statistic.

"In 2002, 17,970 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes, representing approximately 42 percent of the 42,850 total traffic fatalities."---NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), July, 2003

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