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Little progress made in getting repeat OWI drivers off road (UPDATE)

MARSHFIELD, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin has made little progress in getting repeat drunken drivers off its roads, with more than half of the counties seeing no change or an increase in convictions for driving drunk five times or more.

An analysis of state Department of Transportation data by Gannett Wisconsin Media found 822 motorists were convicted of their fifth or more drunken driving charge last year. That’s up from 819 convictions in 2013.

Half of Wisconsin’s 72 counties had no change or more chronic drunken drivers in 2014 than their previous five-year average. The counties in which OWI convictions exceeded their previous five-year averages include: Dane, Fond du Lac, Manitowoc, Oconto, Portage and Waushara.

Penalties for drunken driving are softer in Wisconsin than in most nearby states, yet state lawmakers have repeatedly rejected efforts to toughen the penalties.

“In some ways, I think we’re going in the opposite direction in not doing enough,” said Sen. Tim Carpenter, a Milwaukee Democrat, who has been an outspoken critic of Wisconsin’s drunken driving laws.

Wisconsin remains the only state that classifies a first offense for drunken driving as a traffic citation, not a crime. Carpenter said he supports making first-offense drunken driving conviction a crime in Wisconsin.

“I think we need to strengthen our laws, and I still think we need to help people get treatment in conjunction with stronger penalties,” he said.

Dick Kendall, whose son, Kevin, was killed as a result of a 2004 drunken driving crash in Langlade County, said state legislators have significant work to do on drunken driving laws.

“When a person has a seventh OWI, that’s just how many times they were caught,” Kendall said. “It’s frightening to think about how many other times they didn’t, and when they’re behind the wheel in an oncoming vehicle, you’re in jeopardy.”

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