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Our View: Put a lock on state's drunken drivers earlier
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Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, plans to introduce legislation aimed at reducing the number of repeat drunken drivers and helping to keep streets safe for other drivers and pedestrians.

The legislation, which is being circulated for support in the Assembly, would require the use of an ignition interlock device for two years after a person's second drunken driving conviction.

More legislative efforts are needed to get drunken drivers off the road. Kaufert's proposal would be a positive step.

Under current law, a judge has the option of ordering the interlock device after a third drunken driving conviction.

Green County Circuit Court Judge James Beer said he imposes an interlock device as part of a sentence for anyone convicted a third time or more of drunken driving. He requires the device for one year longer than the person's driver's license revocation period.

Beer said if the state believes the device should be required starting with a second offense, he's all for it.

"It's a good idea, because getting those people off the road is a plus," Beer said. "Everyone is at risk when someone who's been drinking takes a 'missile' and drives it while under the influence."

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, there were 8,393 alcohol-related crashes reported in 2006, which resulted in 5,654 injuries and 305 deaths statewide.

Alcohol-related crashes account for about 7 percent of all reported crashes in the state, 11 percent of all injuries and more than 35 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities.

Currently in Wisconsin, 66,000 people have repeat operating while intoxicated convictions. About 19 percent of drunken driving convictions are repeat offenses.

The interlock device, installed in a vehicle, performs a test on the driver to ensure that there is no alcohol in their system before they drive. If alcohol is detected, the vehicle cannot be started.

In Wisconsin, the device can be installed and rented from a company approved by the DOT. The monthly rental cost, paid by the violator, is $60 to $75.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed a proposal stiffening penalties for repeat drunken driving, but only for seventh and higher drunken driving offenses.

That proposal didn't address the real problem, as only about 400 of the state's 40,000 repeat offenders have seven or more drunken driving convictions.

The 39,000-plus first-, second- and third-time offenders are the problem, and the ones who could be most helped by an ignition device being installed after two convictions.

They are early enough in the process that the device could steer them back to being lawful drivers.

Not only would Kaufert's legislation help the innocent drivers and pedestrians, it could help the violators. That's a win-win situation.