Drunken Driving Laws Submitted: 09/13/2009
- In a state that's known for its taverns and breweries, the topic of drunken driving laws evokes some strong opinions.
Now there's increasing pressure on lawmakers to make those laws tougher.
Right now penalties in the state for drunken driving range from fines to license suspension to prison time based on the offense and judge's discretion.
But several pieces of legislation could change that.
Representative Tony Staskunas, says "I think people feel they can get away with it because our laws are so laxed."
Assembly Bill 283 is up for a vote shortly. It makes a 4th offense a felony, and mandates a interlock device for repeat offenders and first time offenders with high blood alcohol levels.
An interlock device essentially a breathalyzer in your car that you need to pass before your car starts.
Not everyone sees this reform as necessary.
Rob Swearingen, the Tavern League President, says "The frustrating thing for me is this notion that Wisconsin is not tough on drunk drivers. If you get arrested for drunk driving you will go to jail, pay heavy fines and lose your license."
Some people think there's too much focus on the social drinker.
Sarah Longwell, of the American Beverage Institute, says "We're probably making ourselves less safe by focusing on moderate and social drinkers than hardcore drunk drivers."
Rob Swearingen says "Just because Wisconsinites might enjoy a cold beer doesn't mean they're all being over served nightly."
Representative Tony Staskunas who wrote Assembly Bill 283 is making a push for safer roads.
He says "By chance or bad luck any one of us could lose a family member to some drunk."
Bad luck that Mark Jastrow and Patty Bonack know all too well.
Mark Jastrow, Jennifer's father, says "I just wish she was back."
21-year-old Jennifer Jastrow of Eagle River was hit and killed by a drunk driver in Madison in back in March.
Jesse Ruegsegger is responsible for her death and is serving 8 years in prison.
It was his second offense
Mark Jastrow says "I think it should be a felony the second time period."
Jennifer's mother says her daughter didn't have the chance that she feels many drunk drivers get.
Patty Bonack, Jennifer's mother, says "I read in the paper, there's an 8th, 9th, 10th offense. That should just not happen."
Patty would like lawkmakers to put themselves in her position.
She says "Walk a day in my shoes. Feel the pain...the emptiness because my daughter is gone. She was 21 years old. She had her whole life ahead of her and by nothing she did, she was killed by a drunk driver."
Regardless of how lawmakers vote, Jennifer Jastrow will serve as a tragic reminder to many of just what the lethal combination of drinking and driving can do.
The Tavern League of Wisconsin offers a Safe Ride program in many areas, in which taverns that are members of the Tavern League offer free cab rides to those who aren't able to drive home.
For more information on drunken driving legislation and the Safe Ride program, click on the links below.
Written By: Kristyn Allen