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OWI For The Holidays: What You Need To Know About Drinking & Driving

Around the holidays, hundreds of lives are lost as a result of drunk driving. On average, 300 Americans die each year in drunk driving accidents between Christmas and New Years. In Wisconsin, as the weather gets colder and the roads ice over, driving becomes more dangerous; when alcohol is involved, it becomes even more so.

Some sobering facts regarding drunk driving:

  1. More than one in three traffic deaths in the U.S. involve a drunk driver.

  2. While rates of drunk driving and alcohol-involved crashes have decreased in recent years, alcohol remains the single greatest driver contributing cause of fatal crashes.

  3. In Wisconsin, 190 people were killed in drunk driving accidents and another 2,900 were injured in 2015 alone.

  4. An average of one person was killed or injured in an alcohol related crash every 2.9 hours on Wisconsin roadways.

  5. In Wisconsin, there were approximately 24,000 drunk driving convictions in 2015.

  6. For drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.15%, the likelihood of being killed in a single-vehicle crash is three times higher than it is for non-drinking drivers.

To begin, it is important to clarify that in Wisconsin drunk driving charges are most often classified as OWI (operating while intoxicated). Even an act as simple as starting your vehicle while intoxicated may be grounds for an OWI. Additionally, OWI charges can apply to any motorized vehicle, not just cars and trucks.

Generally, the first OWI an individual receives is a civil offense, not a criminal one. Nonetheless, the charge can carry with it many consequences including fines and surcharges, mandatory alcohol and drug assessments, and ignition interlock devices for BACs over 0.15 percent. Likewise, the Department of Transportation can revoke your driver’s license and give you a high-risk driver status, which results in increased insurance rates and SR-22 verification.

As the number of OWI convictions grows, the consequences associated with those convictions grow along with it. Once the 4th OWI offense is charged, it is considered an automatic felony. With a felony OWI, penalties include fines up to $10,000, a revocation of your license, and up to 6 years of prison time.

Popular television shows often show drivers refusing to take Breathalyzer tests in the hope that their BAC will lower with time, Wisconsin is an implied consent state, meaning that a refusal of a chemical testing of blood, breath, or urine, can result in heavy consequences impacting driving privileges. While it is not a criminal offense to refuse a test, the penalties for refusing a test are actually more severe than the penalty for the first OWI itself. The refusal penalties increase with each OWI offense. For the first offense of refusing a field sobriety or chemical test, the driver’s license is revoked for one year, an ignition interlock device is installed for one year, and a 30-day waiting period to apply for occupational licenses is put in place.

Unfortunately, many people think that nothing can be done when they are charged with an OWI in Wisconsin. They simply give up and accept the charge whether or not they think they deserve it. An attorney may be able to negotiate a reduced charge, mitigate the penalty, or even dismiss the charge entirely.

Some factors that may mitigate or eliminate an OWI charge:

  • Did the police officer have “reasonable suspicion” that an offense has happened or is happening that would warrant that officer to pull you over?

  • Was there actually a reason to suspect you of drunk driving? Was there an adequate reason to administer a sobriety test?

  • Did the police officer administer the correct test and was it administered correctly?

Of course, this all can be avoided by hitching a ride with a designated sober driver, by calling a cab or ride sharing service to get home, or by refusing to get behind the wheel when you’re drunk. However, if you are charged with an OWI, one of our attorneys at Levine Eisberner LLC may be able to help you defend yourself against the charge.

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