WAUKESHA (WITI) --- On this New Year's Eve, there's a new push for tougher drunk driving laws in Wisconsin. Police say the last day of the year is one of the biggest drinking nights of the year, and they'll be cracking down on drinkers who choose to get behind the wheel.
The Southeast Wisconsin OWI Task Force took part in a roll call in Waukesha on Wednesday evening, December 31st -- gearing up for a night on patrol, looking for drunk drivers. This, as a Wisconsin lawmaker says 2015 is the year the state has to get serious about punishing drunk drivers.
"New Year's Eve is always one of the biggest drinking nights, especially in Wisconsin where we have a drinking culture," Hales Corners Police Detective Justin Landry said.
The Southeast Wisconsin OWI Task Force is made up of 27 agencies across Milwaukee and Waukesha counties. The Task Force has made nearly 70 OWI arrests since October 2014.
State Representative Jim Ott (R-Mequon) says those numbers are disappointing, but he says he's more disappointed in the state Legislature's inability to pass stricter OWI laws.
"You hear about these cases over and over again. Certainly I would have liked to see more progress. On the other hand, my experience tells me we'll try something in the Legislature and not succeed the second time. Maybe the third time we do," Ott said.
Wisconsin has the most lenient laws in the country when it comes to drunk driving. It is the only state in the nation that doesn't consider a first time OWI offense a criminal act. Here, drunk drivers simply receive a ticket.
In 2013, Ott partnered with state Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) to author new legislation that would change a third OWI from a misdemeanor to a felony, and a minimum jail sentence for an OWI that causes injury from 30 days to six months, and a 10-year minimum sentence for an OWI that causes death. Concerns over increased costs for enforcement derailed the effort.
"The other thing is there's a major cost to our state from drunk drivers. You talk about the people who were killed in the last few weeks by drunk drivers, how do you put a dollar figure on that? You can't," Ott said.
Those with the Southeast Wisconsin OWI Task Force have a sobering message for drivers.
"Don't drink and drive. You should know better. Tonight especially, we're going to be out there looking for you," Detective Landry said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says more than a quarter of Wisconsin adults has admitted to driving drunk within the last year. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the average DWI offender has gotten behind the wheel while drunk at least 80 times before their first arrest.