I’m stuck on these two sentences. I keep reading them over and over again:

Nearly 1 in 5 licensed drivers in Wisconsin — 770,000 — have at least one conviction for operating while intoxicated. And more than 20,000 have at least five OWIs.

These facts didn’t even make it into the headline or the lede in this morning’s Wisconsin State Journal editorial urging the Legislature to do meaningful things about Wisconsin’s endless drunk driving problem.

First, let’s make sure to credit the State Journal for it’s hard-hitting series of stories and its editorial on OWI. They didn’t just tell the story with statistics like those. They told heart-breaking, infuriating stories of repeat drunk drivers who eventually killed someone and of a system that wants to look the other way.

But we see short editorial campaigns like this every few years and nothing happens. I think that’s because some critical mass of Wisconsinites — represented by the powerful Tavern League — don’t want it to happen. If a head-spinning three quarters of a million of us have at least one OWI on our records, how many more have driven drunk and gotten away with it?

The Tavern League is a big part of the problem, but it doesn’t completely explain inaction on drunk driving.

Wisconsin is the only state in which a first OWI is just a ticket. Might as well have been speeding a little or parked in a loading zone. Pay better attention next time and have a nice day.

The policy answers are clear enough and the State Journal provided a nice list of what could be done. But it doesn’t matter. And it won’t matter until the casual attitude so many Wisconsinites have toward driving impaired goes away.

Later today my wife and I are driving 250 miles north to the U.P. We think about this enough that it caused us to get our will done, something we’d been putting off for too long. I hope that Mothers Against Drunk Driving doesn’t get their share any time soon, but don’t credit the Legislature — under either party — for making that drive any safer.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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