Anyone who's ever driven across Wisconsin on its beautiful two-laners knows that in many areas you're more likely to find a rural tavern than you are a church, or even a gas station.
Wisconsin remains the only state where the first drunk-driving offense is a traffic violation, not even a crime, and it was the last state to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit from to 0.08. And it's legal for children to drink alcohol at the bar if with a parent.
The state, after all, has been a stronghold for breweries and the brewing industry, as well as binge drinkers big and small (and cheese- and sausage-eaters).
As the Associated Press outlines in a report, the state has a long history of lawmakers themselves arrested for drunk driving, which might have something to do with the state's reluctance to really crack down on the problem. Jeff Wood, a state representative currently still in office, has been charged with three DUIs in a ten-month period; he likely will save his seat and avoid jail time. He's just the latest in a long string of lawmakers and state officials to be forgiven for drunk driving.
And according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) assessment on alcohol-impaired driving fatalities, Wisconsin is in the upper third for alcohol-impaired fatalities related to total fatalities.
In 2008, a whopping 42.4 percent of Wisconsin's traffic fatalities were considered alcohol-impaired. That's higher than any other state, including a number of states in Appalachia that have, like it or not, more of a pop-culture association with drinking, driving, and crashing. Utah ranked most sober, with 18.5 percent of its crashes alcohol-impaired. Likewise a U.S. Health and Human Services report found that 26.4 percent of Wisconsin's drivers had driven while impaired at least once in the past year—versus about 15 percent nationally and 9.5 percent in Utah.
Wisconsin also hasn't laid down the law in any form regarding talking or texting behind the wheel, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
It's all a little surprising, why a state that's known for being more socially conscious at times hasn't with drinking and driving. For instance, New Hampshire, another state with a surprisingly high rate of alcohol-influenced crashes and fatalities, has taken action by restricting all driving privileges for six months with the first offense. Ignition interlocks are required there for both repeat offenders and high-blood-alcohol first offenders. Wisconsin, on the other hand, like some states, has a six-month suspension with the first offense (the moving violation), but driving privileges can be (and usually are) restored.
This story originally appeared at The Car Connection