The Wisconsin state assembly passed a bill would make DUI penalties in that state more like the Massachusetts Drunk Driving Penalties.

The new drunk driving law would make 4th offense DWI a felony and, like Massachusetts, it would require all DUI repeat offenders, and those with a blood alcohol level of .15 or higher, to use ignition interlock devices in their vehicles.  The ignition interlock device prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver’s blood alcohol level registers above a pre-set limit. In Massachusetts, the limit is .02.

Interlock devices have been known to sometimes generate false positive blood alcohol readings. They do this because the use fuel cell rather than more reliable infrared technology. In Massachusetts ignition interlock violations can result in 10 year and even lifetime license revocations.

Supporters of the new drunk driving legislation characterize the law as an important first step in curbing Wisconsin’s high rates of DWI. Opponents say implementation of the law could be expensive and the state will be required to hire more DUI prosecutors. Critics also describe the law as a “baby step” and claim that it does not go far enough.

Wisconsin is the only state which does not criminalize DUI first offense. Instead of being arrested, offenders are given a traffic ticket, unless there is someone under 16 years of age in the vehicle.  In Massachusetts, a first offense OUI is a criminal offense which results in arrest and a mandatory license suspension.

The bill allows certain DUI offenders to shorten their jail sentences by completing complete an alcohol or drug treatment program. This recongizes that the crime of DUI often involves alcohol addiction, which must be treated to prevent recidivism. 

The DUI bill will now make its way to the Wisconsin Senate for further action.