Which drunk drivers pose the biggest danger to the rest of us? Multiple drunk driving offenders get lots of media attention, but State Department of Transportation figures from 1991 to 2002 show 75 percent of fatal or serious-injury crashes involving drunk drivers were caused by those with no previous drunk driving arrests. "That number really flies in the face of what often times people are led to believe: that it's the repeat offender who causes the problems, and it's the repeat offender who kills," says Nina Emerson, director of the Resource Center on Impaired Driving at UW Law School
Emerson believes a lot of us are still getting behind the wheel after having had too much to drink for a very simple reason: we don't believe we'll get caught. And, with the state's prohibition on sobriety checkpoints, we're usually right. "In working towards increased apprehension, I think that sobriety checkpoints would go a long way," says Emerson. "They have in other states." Despite the fact that most drunken drivers involved in fatal accidents haven't been arrested before, they have driven with alcohol blood limits above the legal limit, typically many times. But, because they haven't been caught, and don't fear getting caught, Emerson says, they continue to drive after drinking.
Emerson says research nationwide has shown the fear of being caught is the most significant deterrent to drunk driving. Emerson is a member of the All-Wisconsin Alcohol Risk Education coalition, which wants the next session of the legislature to enact changes, such as allowing sobriety checkpoints, that will decrease drunken driving in Wisconsin. "Right now, they aren't even allowed to consider that as an option," says Emerson, noting that Wisconsin is one of just of twelve states which currently don't allow sobriety checkpoints.