SPECIAL REPORT: Still Behind the Wheel - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

SPECIAL REPORT: Still Behind the Wheel

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WAUSAU, Wis. (WAOW) -

Drinking is part of our culture here in Wisconsin, but with that comes the unfortunate drawback of drunken driving.

Almost 1/3 of people pulled over for drinking and driving in our state have been arrested for it before.

Some critics say Wisconsin's laws are too lenient, but will changing that help the problem?

Jeffery Adams recently appeared in a Marathon County court and plead guilty to his 9th OWI. That sounds like a lot, but it's not as rare as it used to be.

Repeat drunken driving is on the rise in our area. "I wouldn't say everyday, but I would say once a week," said Marathon County Assistant District Attorney Kyle Mayo.

Mayo says he see's between 1 and 20 people in that situation every week. "I think it's unfortunately becoming more common," said Mayo, "but it's also alarming."

"I don't think there's ever going to be a cure for drinking and driving," said a Marathon County man who who asked us not to use his name.

The man has multiple convictions and thinks drinking and driving is part of what it means to live in Wisconsin.

"We do live in Wisconsin, it's a culture," he said, "I had a friend that always said that if you live in Wisconsin and don't have an OWI you're going to get one eventually."

The most recent statistics from the DOT show that in 2015, 2,800 OWIs were for a 7th offense or worse.

Some in the state are calling for tougher penalties. Wisconsin is the only state where the 1st offense is considered a traffic ticket and fine. It takes a 4th offense to become a felony, and the longest you can lose your license 3 years.

But will just toughening laws make a difference? Not everyone thinks so.

"We can have an interlock requirement," said Mayo, "but at some point there's nothing we can do, we're not there every minute of the day with the person making sure they're not driving."

Short of locking up drunken drivers forever, some are always going to get back behind the wheel.

For Adams' 9th OWI case he didn't have a license, had an interlock device on his car, and wasn't supposed to be drinking at all.  Yet he was back on the road, and eventually back in court.

Mayo says one solution isn't just punishment, but help too. "Making sure we're focusing on the treatment to stop that from happening again," said Mayo, "I don't know what else we can do as a criminal justice system other than give the person the tools necessary to stop this from happening again."

Right now Wisconsin lawmakers are debating more jail time for crashes where someone is killed and the driver is drunk, and they are talking about taking away a driver's license for good.

Similar proposals stalled in Madison in 2016.

The Wisconsin DOT offers an OWI chart that explains the state's laws and penalties.

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