MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- More than 15,000 drunk drivers ordered to get a special breath-testing device installed on their cars have not done so. That's according to data provided to the FOX6 Investigators by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
For years, judges across Wisconsin have been ordering the most prolific repeat drunk drivers to get a so-called ignition interlock device, or IID. It's a mobile breath-testing device that connects to the car's ignition system. If the driver has too much alcohol on his or her breath, the car won't start.
Dave Mikolajek was supposed to install one on his Mitsubishi Mirage, but we found him driving without one.
Mikolajek is a popular bartender known all over the city as “College Dave.” He writes an occasional blog called “Barhopping.” And he was once named by OnMilwaukee.com as one of the 100 coolest Milwaukeeans.
An honor he coincidentally shared with Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
"The people that engage in this behavior know there's no teeth in any of this," Sheriff Clarke said.
“College Dave” has been caught driving without an interlock device before. When a deputy arrested him for his second drunk driving offense in the fall of 2011, he was still under an interlock order from the first one, just eight months earlier.
'You don't need a license to drive a car. You just need the key so you can start it up, put it in gear and go. Many of these individuals know that," Sheriff Clarke said.
Wisconsin judges have been ordering the worst repeat drunk drivers to use interlock for years. But in 2010, policymakers expanded the program to include all repeat offenders and first time offenders with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.15 or higher.
"They are being used more often," said State Assemblyman Jon Richards. "They stay on
cars longer. I think they are doing a much better job of keeping drunk drivers off the road -- especially repeat offenders."
Richards is a big supporter of ignition interlocks, but even he admits they’re only effective when they’re actually on the car.
"You will have some people that don`t want to follow the order and want to undermine the order or just screw around," Richards said. "We have to pay very close attention to those people."
According to data provided by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to the FOX6 Investigators, judges in Wisconsin have ordered 33,698 drunk drivers to install an ignition interlock device on their cars since July of 2010. In that same time, just 15,078 interlocks have actually been installed. That means 45% -- less than half -- of all drunk drivers ordered to get an IID have actually followed through and done it.
"We need 100% compliance if this thing is really going to make a difference," Clarke said.
Failure to install an interlock device is a crime, but veteran drunk driving prosecutor Ron Dague admits, almost no one is going to jail for it. Especially not in Milwaukee.
"We have yet to be able to successfully prosecute even one case in Milwaukee County," Dague said.
That's because of an accidental loophole in a state law that was created in 2010.
It used to be that a court order for ignition interlock took effect the same day a drunk driver was sentenced. That meant that a driver ordered to use an interlock device for 12 months could simply wait a year before applying for a new license. Then, he would never have to get an interlock installed. To fix that, lawmakers changed the rules in 2010.
Now, the clock doesn't start ticking on an interlock order until the driver gets a new license. One problem solved, another created.
"They somewhat naively assumed, well, nobody would drive without a license," Dague explains.
In reality, thousands of Wisconsin drivers get behind the wheel every day without a valid license.
In December, a Sheriff’s deputy stopped Steven Olson for driving in the middle of the night without headlights. It was his 4th OWI in the last five years.
“I have a feeling this is gonna cost me about a year and a half of my life,” Olson said, while seated in the back of the squad car.
Steven Olson had no interlock. No drivers license. He didn’t even have his own car.
"So whose car is this again?" the deputy asked.
"It's my nephew's vehicle, but my brother drives it," Olson replied.
“That's a problem because most households have multiple vehicles,” Clarke said.
The FOX6 Investigators found a repeat drunk driver who proves the Sheriff's point. We're not naming him because he did get an ignition interlock device installed on his own car, and police have never caught him driving without one.
But FOX6's hidden cameras show that driver getting behind the wheel of a car that belongs to someone else - a car without an interlock device inside. FOX6 Investigators caught up with him in the parking lot of the business where he works.
FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn: "Aren't you supposed to be under an ignition interlock order?"
Repeat Drunk Driver: "Not that I am aware of, no."
Oh, he’s aware alright. Last May, he wrote the judge in his case a letter, calling his second drunk driving arrest a “humbling experience” in part because he is “required to install an interlock.”
FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn: "Does that car have an interlock?"
Repeat drunk driver: "That car is fine yes, there's nothing wrong with that car."
FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn: "Does that car have an interlock device on it?"
Repeat drunk driver: "Yes, it does have an interlock device on the car."
Does it really?
FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn: "How long does it take to start up a car with an interlock?"
Repeat drunk driver:"Uh... I don't know."
Greg Mueller knows. He is the program manager for Lifesafer Interlock, one of four vendors approved to install IID’s in Wisconsin.
"It goes through a wait cycle which means it has to warm itself up to accept breath sample," Mueller said. "So, in the winter time about a minute and half from first initial key on."
Even after the interlock is warmed up, it takes five seconds just to register a valid breath. FOX6's hidden cameras catch this repeat drunk driver pulling away in just three seconds. And FOX6 Investigators didn't just see it once -- but twice.
FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn: "Think you can do it in three seconds?"
Repeat drunk driver: "Uh, twenty seconds probably?"
FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn: "We saw you pull out in three."
Repeat drunk driver: "Ok, I gotta go please."
And get this -- Dague says if a driver installs an interlock on his own car, but then borrows someone else’s to get around the law it is not a crime. It’s just a civil offense.
"It would be the same violation if I failed to wear my glasses," Dague said. "It carries the same fine and citation as that."
The interlock law is so full of holes, a Milwaukee County Judge recently called it “a joke.”
Last summer, a 911 call led Sheriff’s deputies to the scene of a crash involving Evelynn Brown. She was so drunk, they had to take her away in a stretcher. It was her ninth drunk driving offense and she was in her husband’s car, prompting Judge David Hansher to declare "...the interlock law is a complete failure.”
Ron Dague is slightly more diplomatic.
“It doesn’t address the people that look for ways to circumvent the law," Dague said.
He says the law works great... for drivers who choose to follow it.
Dave Mikolajek declined FOX6's requests for an interview. According to the state, he does have an interlock device now. FOX6 Investigators told him about this story on January 17th. He got the interlock installed on January 24th.
Now, Assemblyman Richards wants to go even further and require all drunk drivers to get interlocks no matter how many times they've been arrested or how much alcohol they had in their system. But he has indicated an interest in talking to the Milwaukee DA's office about how to ensure it's a law they can actually enforce.