State officials take action against drunk driving

It may come as no surprise to Wisconsinites — drunk drivers are a threat on Wisconsin roadways.

Wisconsin has consistently been ranked by Mothers Against Drunk Driving as a state with one of the largest percentages of traffic fatalities involving a drunk driver.

An example of the dangers of operating while intoxicated reared its head last week. On March 22, Grafton, Wis. resident James Ehley, 31, was charged with drunken-driving after allegedly causing a crash that injured another driver.

The criminal complaint against Ehley states he ran a stop sign near County Highway I and Pleasant Valley Road in Cedarburg, Wis. Ehley then struck a car driven by the other man involved in the incident.

Ehley hit the victim’s Honda Accord, and the victim was ejected from his vehicle, according to a press release issued by Sgt. Kristopher Martin of the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department.

Ehley faces charges of injury by intoxicated use of a vehicle and operating a vehicle while intoxicated a second time. He is also charged with refusing to take a test for intoxication upon arrest.

Ehley’s incident is only one of many that has given Wisconsin a high rate of drunk driving incidents.

MADD issued its annual state progress report at the end of last year and ranked Wisconsin as the 37th state making the biggest impact on preventing drunk driving.

According to the report, although there is strong public support for stronger measures against drunk driving, the Wisconsin state legislature has not acted. First offenses not considered a crime and a state statute making OWI checkpoints illegal also gave the state a low ranking.

Although the 2009 MADD rankings put Wisconsin below 70 percent of states, the 2008 report placed Wisconsin at 48th place. In 2007, Wisconsin was ranked the worst in the nation.

Regardless of these rankings, Milwaukee area law enforcement officials are working within Wisconsin’s current OWI laws to deter drunk driving.

The Milwaukee Police Department has begun receiving grants from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Safety. These grants work to fund overtime patrol deployments to target impaired drivers, according to MPD Public Information Officer Sgt. Mark Stanmeyer.

“These deployments usually happen during the times that we most often see increased levels of intoxication, such as late at night, on the weekends or during long holiday weekends,” Stanmeyer said.

While MPD patrols streets within city limits, the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department is responsible for enforcement throughout freeways in the county.

“We cover 158 miles of the Wisconsin freeway system. Speeding is important, but at this present time OWIs are our number one function,” said OWI Task Force supervisor Sgt. William Brown at a 2008 town hall meeting at the Middleton Performing Arts Center. The meeting focused on drunk driving prevention and explained the duties of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department OWI Task Force.

This St. Patrick’s Day, the OWI Task Force organized a special enforcement operation to take drunk drivers off the streets. The operation resulted in 77 arrests. A total of 412 citations were also issued relating to drunk driving incidents.

“The ultimate goal of enforcement efforts such as these is not to arrest more drunk drivers, but instead to create a set of values that sees less people drinking and getting behind the wheel,” said Milwaukee County Sheriff David A Clarke, Jr. about the arrests. “However, as our numbers reflect, for those who choose to drive drunk, a warning will not be issued — an arrest will be made.”