Nearly half of all car crashes in Wisconsin are alcohol-related, and one lawmaker from Milwaukee says sobriety checkpoints are one way to reduce that statistic.
Democratic state Sen. Tim Carpenter says it's worthwhile to try the checkpoints out.
Currently, Wausau Police can only pull someone over if they have probable cause, meaning they may see a car swerving, speeding or going through a red light. That's called sobriety enforcement. Sobriety checkpoints would allow officers to randomly stop drivers to see if they're impaired.
Every year, Wausau Police, along with Marathon Co. Sheriff's deputies arrest around 1,000 people for being intoxicated behind the wheel.
"It is so widespread that we need to start addressing the impact it has on our state, not just our community," Wausau Police Chief Jeff Hardel said.
Last week a group of bills introduced to the state Legislature aimed to curb drunk driving by increasing penalties. No where in them was mention of sobriety checkpoints.
Wisconsin is one of just 12 states that doesn't allow checkpoints. Those opposed to it say it infringes on people's privacy, and taverns fear it could deter people from drinking, even if it is responsibly.
"While I understand the theory behind sobriety checkpoints, I think what you do is scare the social drinker," said Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-34th District).
Chief Hardel believes the practice could be a helpful tool in prevention, and wouldn't require any additional staff because the resources the department uses for sobriety enforcement would be the same for the checkpoints.
"I think it would really reduce the risk that the community has," Hardel said. "What I'm appalled at, we have so many repeat arrests. You know there are times when we arrest someone for their 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th offense OWI. That's wrong."
In the meantime, Marathon County has taken other proactive steps to stop repeat offenders. Those with a 4th, 5th or 6th offense are now eligible for a federal treatment program instead of prison time.
"With the participants that have graduated, there has been no recidivism as of yet," said OWI coordinator Melanie Strand.
Timothy Hickman is one of those success stories. Two years ago, he wracked up six OWIs before getting his life back on track.
"I always blamed others, never myself," Hickman said. "And I don't feel that way no more. All of these classes helped out a lot with putting everything in perspective of who to put the blame on. And it wasn't everybody else, it was me."
Now, Hickman is encouraging his friends to do the same.
"I'm ready to move on, take that next step" Ken Chaignod said. Chaignod graduates from the program next week. He'll be the 7th person to do so.
"If it wasn't for this program, I'd be in prison or dead," Chaignod said. "And prison isn't the answer because you come back out drink again and drive. This way you learn how to do it without."