What Are the Wisconsin OWI Laws?

In Wisconsin, drinking and driving is known as "operating a vehicle while intoxicated" or OWI. OWI laws prohibit operating any vehicle (car, snowmobile, boat, etc) while drunk, which is usually determined by blood alcohol level.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Limits

The BAC limit in Wisconsin at which no other evidence is required to show the driver was intoxicated for an OWI conviction is .08%. That's the "per se" BAC limit. This is called a Prohibited Alcohol Concentration (PAC) in Wisconsin. If you get an OWI, you will most likely get a second citation for a PAC.

You can still get an OWI with a BAC under .08 BAC, if the prosecutor can show how poorly you did in the field sobriety tests, such as standing on one leg or following an object with your eyes. Also, for anyone under 21, the legal drinking age in Wisconsin, there's a "zero tolerance law." The BAC limit for an underage driver is 0.02%. Drinking and driving at all while underage can get you an OWI even if you feel sober.

Criminal Penalties

Wisconsin takes drinking and driving seriously. The OWI laws have criminal penalties that vary base on the number of prior offenses, BAC, and whether children were in the car. Each OWI offense has an OWI fee of $435. Approximately half of this surcharge goes to cover community programs to provide alcoholism and drug abuse services.

The following chart shows the general criminal penalties for OWIs in Wisconsin.

 

1st OWI

2nd OWI

3rd OWI

4th OWI

5th-6th OWI

7-9th OWI

10th+ OWI

Fine

$150-300

$350-1,100

$600-2,000

$600-2,000

$600-10,000

Up to $25,000

Up to $25,000

Jail

None

5 days to 6 months

45 days to 1 year

60 days to 1 year

6 months to 6 years

3-10 years in prison

4 to 12.5 years in prison

License Revocation

6-9 months

12-18 months

2-3 years

2-3 years

2-3 years

2-3 years

2-3 years

IID

No

12-18 months

1-3 years

1-3 years

1-3 years

1-3 years

1-3 years

Notes

If BAC over .15 IID required

Prior OWI within 10 years

 

No OWI in past 5 years

Class H Felony

Class G Felony

Class F Felony

Most OWI offenses involve at least the short-term use of an Ignition Interlock Device (IID). This vehicle attachment requires you to blow into it to start your vehicle to prove you haven't been drinking before driving. Absolute sobriety is required to start the car in most cases. IIDs are not cheap to install and monitor.

Also, higher BAC concentrations increase the minimum and maximum fines. For a BAC of 0.17 to 0.199, the fines are doubled, for 0.20 to 0.249 the fines are tripled, and for 0.25 BAC or above the fines are quadrupled.

Wisconsin has a "Safe Streets" option for some OWI offenders to go to treatment for a reduced jail sentence. For a second time offender this cuts jail time to 5-7 days and for a third time offender, it's reduced to 14 days to 1 year. Four time OWI offenders can participate in Safe Streets as well for 29 days to 1 year in jail, if not in past five years.

Children in the Car

If you have a child under 16 in your car when you drink and drive, the penalties are increased. The fine for first time offender is $350-1,100 with minimum jail of 5-6 days and max of 12-18 months license revocation and/or IID. For a second offense, the fine is $7,000-2,200 and jail for 10 days to 12 months. The revocation and IID can be for 2-3 years. For a third offense when a child is in the car, it's a $1,200-4,000 fine, jail for 90 days to 2 years, a revocation and IID for 4-6 years (once out of jail). For a forth offense, it's the same, with a 120 days in jail minimum with no OWIs in the past 5 years or 1 year minimum jail sentence for at least one prior OWI in the past 5 years. Penalties continue to increase for subsequent OWIs.

Occupational License

If your license is revoked for an OWI, you can still get to work using an "occupational license." This is a restricted license that can be used no more than 12 hours a day and 60 hours per week to go to places such as work or church. For your first OWI, there is no waiting to period to get the occupational license. However, for a second or subsequent OWI or PAC conviction, you can't apply until 45 days into your revocation period.

Commercial Vehicles

Professional drivers are held to a higher standard. If you operate a commercial vehicle, the BAC limit is 0.04. You also can’t drink within four hours before commercial driving.

Implied Consent

Wisconsin has an "implied consent" law. This means, if you're driving, you agree to take a drug or alcohol test if there’s reason to think you're driving under the influence. Refusing to take a test is a one-year license revocation and one year IID. If it's your second offense within 10 years, it's a two-year license revocation and 1-2 year IID use. If a third offense, it's a three-year license revocation and 1-3 years of having an IID.

Additional factors increase your license revocation for refusing a chemical test. If you have a child in the law, the max revocation and IID is two years for a first offense, four years for a second offense, and six years for a third offense. Also, for a first test refusal, you can't get the occupational license for 30 days, for a second refusal 90 days, and for a third refusal 120 days.

Getting Legal Help

If you're facing a DUI charge in Wisconsin, you should quickly contact an experienced Wisconsin DUI attorney or your public defender. Working with an experienced lawyer should help you get back to driving as soon as possible.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.