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Wisconsin OWI Laws

Driving while under the influence of an intoxicant, such as drugs or alcohol, presents a significant public safety issue in Wisconsin. Wisconsin takes a comprehensive stance on impaired driving. A conviction includes substance abuse assessments, treatment, and education to help prevent repeat offenses.

Driving any vehicle while intoxicated is dangerous, not only for you but for everyone around you. In 2022, the court system convicted over 22,000 operating while intoxicated or OWI offenses. The state also saw alcohol as a factor in 34% of all traffic fatalities in 2021.

Below are details about Wisconsin's OWI laws and penalties, with links to additional resources

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits and Implied Consent

"Per Se" BAC Limit 0.08%
Zero Tolerance (Underage) BAC Limit 0.00%
Enhanced Penalty (Aggravated) BAC Limit 0.15%
Implied Consent to Submit to BAC Test? Yes

Select Penalties

Minimum License Suspension or Revocation (1st, 2nd, 3rd offense) 6 months / 1 year / 2 years
Mandatory Alcohol Education, Assessment and Treatment Both
Vehicle Confiscation Possible? No
Ignition Interlock Device Possible? Yes

Note: State laws can change through legislative, judicial, or other means. While FindLaw works hard to ensure the accuracy of its legal resources, it's a good idea to thoroughly research the law or check with an attorney to ensure you have the most recent information.

Wisconsin OWI Laws

Wisconsin law prohibits anyone from driving or operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of:

  • An intoxicant
  • A controlled substance
  • A controlled substance analog
  • Any drug or intoxicant that impairs your ability to drive safely
  • A combination of these

It's further prohibited to have any detectable amount of a restricted controlled substance or a prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC). A prohibited alcohol concentration is when your blood alcohol content (BAC) is over the legal limit of 0.08% if you're over 21 and 0.04% if operating a commercial vehicle.

Per Se Offense

per se OWI offense needs proof that you have a prohibited alcohol concentration (PAC) to prosecute you. The legal PAC is a BAC of at least 0.08%, or any controlled substance. Law enforcement doesn't have to provide evidence that you are actually impaired or unable to operate a vehicle safely. You may not show any signs of intoxication. A chemical test result in a per se offense is all the evidence needed for a conviction. This is often called a "PAC" charge.

You can still face an OWI charge if your BAC is below the legal limit. Law enforcement must provide other evidence of your impairment, such as failing field sobriety tests or driving erratically.

Implied Consent and Chemical Tests

Since driving is a privilege, it's important to ensure the safety of those around us. When granted a driver's license, we agree to follow the law. When you operate a vehicle on public roads, the state of Wisconsin sees this as your consent to chemical tests when a police officer suspects you of OWI. This is Wisconsin's implied consent law.

During your stop, law enforcement typically will ask you to take a preliminary breath test and perform field sobriety tests. You may refuse these tests without penalty unless you operate a commercial vehicle. Commercial drivers must submit to all tests. Refusing preliminary breath and field sobriety tests will not prevent your arrest.

After the officer has established that you are driving or operating a vehicle under the influence of an intoxicant, they will request chemical tests. Chemical tests look for intoxicating substances and confirm the amount of alcohol in your blood. These tests include a Breathalyzer or evidentiary breath test, blood test, urine, or bodily fluid tests.

You may refuse these chemical tests, but there are consequences. The police officer will immediately confiscate your driver's license and revoke your driving privileges. For a first refusal, this license revocation period is for one year. Law enforcement may present evidence of your refusal in court.

You have 10 days to request an administrative hearing to challenge this revocation. Your driver's license revocation will go into effect 30 days after your refusal.

OWI Penalties

You will face criminal and administrative penalties for an OWI conviction. While the court system will hear the criminal portion, you will deal with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) for the administrative aspect.

All OWI or PAC convictions require you to submit to a substance abuse assessment called the Intoxicated Driver Program (IDP). The IDP may result in a Driver Safety Plan, which can include treatment and education programs. The Driver Safety Plan must be completed within one year. Failure to meet your Driver Safety Plan's requirements will cancel your license.

All convictions carry a $535 Driver Improvement surcharge in addition to other fines and forfeitures the court may impose.

Deferred adjudications are not allowed for OWI charges.

OWI Sentencing

A first OWI offense is a civil infraction if no sentencing enhancements apply. You face a fine of $100 to $300, plus the $535 Driver Improvement surcharge. You must complete the IDP and follow any recommended Driver Safety Plan. Your driver's license suspension is for six to nine months.

If your BAC was 0.15% or greater or you refused chemical tests, you must install an ignition interlock devise as a condition of a limited occupational license. You may have to participate in a 24/7 sobriety program for one year.

A second offense is a misdemeanor charge. A second conviction within 10 years, if your BAC is under 0.15%, your sentence will include:

  • A fine of $350 to $1,100
  • Five days to six months of jail time
  • License suspension for 12 to 18 months
  • Ignition interlock device required for one year
  • Community service

A third offense during your lifetime is also a misdemeanor charge. Your penalties include:

  • 45 days to 12 months in jail
  • A $600 to $2,000 fine
  • License revocation for two to three years
  • Mandatory ignition interlock device for a minimum of one year if granted an occupational license

A fourth offense and any subsequent offenses are felony charges. Your driver's license is permanently revoked if you have four prior offenses.

Sentencing Enhancements

Your fines, forfeitures, and jail sentences double when certain aggravating factors are present. These include:

  • Having a passenger age 16 or younger
  • Causing injury
  • Having a BAC of 0.17% to 0.199%

If your BAC is 0.2% to 0.249%, your penalties triple. A BAC of 0.25% or more, your penalties quadruple.

Felony OWI

You face a significant increase in penalties, fines, and jail time if you cause serious injury or death to another during your OWI.

OWI causing great bodily harm and homicide while OWI are both serious felonies. You face at minimum 12.5 years in prison and a $25,000 fine for causing great bodily harm. Homicide while OWI carries a minimum fine of $100,000 and 25 years in prison.

Ignition Interlock Device and Occupational Licenses

You may be eligible for limited driving privileges during your license revocation. An occupational license allows you to drive to work, school, and necessary appointments within a specified timeframe. You must serve some of your suspension period and install and maintain an ignition interlock device to qualify.

An ignition interlock device (IID) attaches to your vehicle. It requires you to submit a valid breath sample before it will allow the car to start. If the IID finds a detectable amount of alcohol in your sample, you can't drive. Wisconsin DUI law makes IIDs mandatory for:

  • First-time OWI offenders with a BAC of 0.15% or higher
  • Repeat OWI offenders
  • Chemical test refusal

Every vehicle you own will need an IID for at least one year.

Zero Tolerance for Underage OWI

Wisconsin has a zero-tolerance law for underage drinking and driving. Also called an "absolute sobriety law," if your BAC is more than 0.0%, you will face an OWI civil infraction.

For a first offense, with a BAC under 0.08% and no sentencing enhancement, you will pay a $200 fine and serve a three-month license suspension.

If you have a passenger age 16 or younger, you face a criminal offense, with a fine of $400.

Wisconsin OWI Resources

Charged With an OWI? Get Help From a Wisconsin Attorney

Having a driving under the influence conviction is costly. You will pay heavy fines, lose time off work and school, and face lengthy license suspension. But a conviction on your criminal record can impact your life for many years. You may lose job opportunities, have difficulty paying for college, and your insurance rate will increase significantly. An experienced Wisconsin OWI defense attorney can help evaluate your case and provide valuable legal advice.

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