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MADD urges stricter approach to curbing drunk driving

Kari Kinnard

Historically Wisconsin has gone after drunk drivers. It should put more emphasis on prosecuting first offenses, says the executive director of MADD Wisconsin.

"Obviously what we've been doing in the past isn't working," said Kari Kinnard in a phone interview. "Why are we waiting to let these people have multiple chances of killing or injuring our loved ones?"

Drinking and driving is a complicated problem and should attacked in several ways, she said.

The first approach Kinnard suggested is mandatory ignition interlocks for all offenders' vehicles after the first offense.

"We know that this is working in other states," said Kinnard, claiming the use of interlocks reduces both recidivism and alcohol-related deaths.

"Within the first year (of changing the law), we've seen drops," she said.

A second step would be to use sobriety checkpoints, said Kinnard. Wisconsin is one of only 12 states that don't allow checkpoints.

Kinnard suggested giving this as an option for local law enforcement agencies that are comfortable using this tool.

Third, said Kinnard, Wisconsin should criminalize the first OWI offense and look at other options to get across the message that drunk driving is deadly behavior and won't be tolerated.

As a protection against drunk drivers, the state should begin primary enforcement of seat belt use, said Kinnard. Now police officers can give tickets for not using seatbelts only after stopping a driver for some other violation.

Regular use of seatbelts is the only defense against drunk drivers, said Kinnard. Also, she said, if Wisconsin doesn't begin primary enforcement by July 1 of this year, it will lose a minimum of $15 million in federal funds.

"We can save lives and make money," said Kinnard. "Win-win."

She also suggested mandatory jail sentences and uniform sentencing guidelines for drunk driving convictions.

As a final suggestion, Kinnard urged increasing taxes on beer.

"Let's raise the beer tax that hasn't been raised since 1969," she said, suggesting that the money be used for enforcement, treatment and education.

"We could make a world of difference if we did that."