With few exceptions, the legal drinking age in Wisconsin and the rest of the United States is 21.

Social scientists already know there's a sizable increase in alcohol-related deaths and violent crime when people reach that age.

But UW-Madison researcher Jason Fletcher wanted to focus on other problems that crop up when people start drinking legally. So, he looked at data from Add Health, a long-term national study covering adolescent to adult health.

Wisconsin’s drinking culture sometimes leads to tragedies on the road — when impaired drivers get behind the wheel.

A handful of counties have been using a relatively-new method of identifying high-risk drinkers and steering them toward treatment.

The preferred ways of checking people for drug and alcohol use over the years have been blood and urine tests. But since 2006, Doctor Pamela Bean has been encouraging the use of biomarkers. They’re detected in fingernail clippings and blood samples.

Four members of a group studying ways to reduce drunken driving in the state resigned Thursday, saying bar and tavern owners have an undue influence on the committee.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation formed the committee.  Among those resigning include an emergency room doctor and two members of non-profit organizations.

The task force members said in a letter Thursday, that those working on the plan have little interest in a diversity of opinion on the issue. 

The Wisconsin Assembly approved three bills Tuesday to toughen the state's penalties for driving under the influence.


The state Assembly is scheduled to vote Tuesday on three bills that crack down on drunken driving. 

One measure would bring Wisconsin in line with other states -- by criminalizing the first offense.  Currently, Wisconsin gives traffic tickets to first time drunken drivers and orders them to pay a fine.

Supporters say the change is long overdue -- Wisconsin is the only state that does not make the first offense a crime.

Opponents say they're concerned about additional costs the state may incur, if it sends more people through the criminal justice system. 


A legislative committee has approved a half dozen measures that would impose tougher sanctions on drunken drivers.

One of the bills would make the first offense a crime, if a driver's blood alcohol content is .15 or above. Currently, first offenders are issued municipal tickets.

Another measure would make the third offense a felony.

The panel also approved bills imposing mandatory sentences for drunken drivers who injure or kill someone and allowing authorities to seize offenders' vehicles.

Patrick Coffey was arrested last Thursday night after attending Irish Fest.


A couple legislators continue hammering away at drunken driving in Wisconsin.

They’ve introduced six bills aimed at toughening penalties.

A Senate committee held a hearing on some of the proposals at the State Capitol Thursday.

One bill would criminalize the first offense - the first time police pull over an intoxicated driver, if the person’s blood alcohol level is at least .15. That’s about twice the legal limit.

The bill’s sponsor is Republican Sen. Alberta Darling. She says Wisconsin is the only state that does not make the first offense a crime.

Hearing This Week on New Drunk Driving Laws

Aug 12, 2013

A state Assembly committee will take public testimony Thursday on a new legislation that would toughen the state's drunk driving laws.

Two GOP lawmakers say the state’s OWI statutes are weaker than those in the rest of the nation.

State Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills and Mequon Rep. Jim Ott say people who drive while intoxicated have done it dozens of times, and will continue doing so.

Thee lawmakers have introduced six bills that would strengthen the state’s laws. Three of the bills were discussed at an Assembly committee meeting Thursday.

Darling told the panel that Wisconsin has a drunken driving problem, in part, because the laws enable it.

Two Republican legislators say Wisconsin's drunken driving laws have been lax, for too long, particularly when it comes to repeat offenders.

There has been talk this week of lowering the blood alcohol threshold for drunken driving from .08 to .05.

The state Assembly approved a couple of measures on Tuesday, meant to reduce alcohol-related crimes.