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Federal agency recommends tougher DUI sentencing nationally

Wisconsin has some pretty tough sentencing guidelines for those who are convicted of drunk driving. But a strong recommendation from federal regulators could make Wisconsin's DUI penalties even more stringent than they are now.

Earlier this month, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a recommendation that all states should require mandatory installation of ignition interlock devices (IIDs) for anyone convicted of driving under the influence. IIDs are essentially breathalyzer tests that don't allow a car to start if the driver's blood alcohol concentration is above a certain threshold.

Wisconsin courts do mandate the installation of IIDs, but only for certain offenders. Currently, an IID is only mandatory for those convicted of a third offense, first-time offenders who had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 percent or higher or first-time offenders who refused to submit to tests.

There are already 17 states that require IIDs for anyone convicted of drunk driving, regardless of BAC or number of previous convictions. While the NTSB's recommendation is non-binding, the board's recommendations often prove influential to legislators and policymakers.

Of course, this proposal does have its critics. One of the largest and most vocal groups opposing the recommendation is the American Beverage Institute, which represents thousands of U.S. chain restaurants.

The Institute's managing director advocates for IID requirements similar to those already in place in Wisconsin. Specifically, she believes that mandatory installation should be required only for repeat offenders and those convicted with a high BAC.

In a recent public statement, she argued that, "You don't punish somebody going five miles over the speed limit the same way you do somebody going 50 miles over the speed limit. This would eliminate people's ability to have a glass of wine with dinner or to have a beer at a ballgame and then drive home."

The examples she gave are familiar scenarios for many Wisconsin residents. Hopefully, for the sake of fairness and the preservation of our individual liberties, the NTSB's recommendation will not be adopted in Wisconsin.

Source: Washington Post, "NTSB recommends every state require ignition interlocks for all convicted drunken drivers," Dec. 11, 2012

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