MADISON, Wis. - Alcohol is the most common factor in fatal crashes in Wisconsin, according to state crash data.
A recent survey by AAA shows that young adults and those who drink at bars are the most likely to drink and drive.
The results are consistent with the 2016 Wisconsin Epidemiological Profile on Alcohol and Other Drug Use published by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
"Wisconsin has made laudable progress in recent years, but impaired driving rightfully remains a top concern for AAA members and the general public," said Nick Jarmusz, Wisconsin director of public affairs for AAA -- The Auto Club Group. "We believe that the results of this survey can help prevent crashes and save lives by making the efforts to eliminate this dangerous practice more strategic and impactful."
To protect drivers on the roadway, AAA surveyed residents 21 and older. They found that one in five people say they drink and drive at least once a month, and that most offenders drive after leaving a bar. They also found the number of people drinking and driving is more common in drivers 21-34.
- More than 40 percent of drivers who consume alcohol admit to getting behind the wheel within two hours of having multiple drinks at least once in the last year. Drivers age 21-34 are the most likely do so, with one in five (21 percent) reporting that they drive after drinking at least once a month. This is especially troubling because young drivers are also the most likely to have five or more drinks in a single day, with 33 percent doing so more than once a month (compared to 25 percent or less for other age groups).
- Bars and taverns are identified as the most common venue for drinking before driving. Fifty-three percent of those who admit to driving within two hours of consuming multiple drinks say they do so after leaving such establishments. Drivers age 21-44 are more likely to drive after drinking at a bar or tavern than other age groups (more than 60 percent compared to 46 percent or less).
- Jail time, license revocation and ignition-interlock devices are generally viewed as equally effective deterrents against drinking and driving, but there are differences based on age. Drivers over age 55 view ignition interlocks as the most effective of the three, while younger drivers (age 21-54) view them as the least effective.
- According to the survey, most agree that impaired driving is a greater problem in Wisconsin than it is in other states (59 percent) and that the state's penalties for impaired driving are too lenient (56 percent).
- Only 38 percent of respondents believe there is adequate street-level enforcement of impaired-driving laws, and just 29 percent are confident that courts in the state are properly ruling on impaired-driving cases.
"What we are doing now is not enough to continue to push those numbers down so we wanted to look at what are the best ways that we can utilize the resources that are available to address this issue," Jarmusz said. "There is a need to look at bars and taverns as a source of impaired drivers and make sure they are following the established guidelines."
The Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is looking to pinpoint where drivers are coming from in a project called Place of Last Drink. It's a question used on police reports that helps identify bars that might be overserving their customers.
"It provides a real time barometer of who may be overserving. The vast majorities of licensees do not overserve, but when you have a bad actor the consequences can be tragic," coordinator Julia Sherman said.
In Wisconsin, data from Place of Last Drink has been recorded and analyzed in Waukesha and Madison. In Waukesha, the numbers showed two bars had patrons who were cited for OWI's 20 times each after coming from their bar. The numbers have been tracked for years; now, project organizers hope to use the information to give back to the communities for a deeper understanding of the problem.
The Alcohol Policy project is looking to participate with every jurisdiction in Dane County to build a database with the numbers. From there, it would be up to the specific jurisdiction to decide how to move forward with the data and form solutions.
"This is not about getting people or getting licensees. This is about providing information so that we can all have better-operated establishments in our communities," she said.
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