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What to know about Wisconsin OWI laws


Wisconsin has the reputation of being a drinking state, and while tailgating, brandy old fashioneds and local brews might bring a lot of fun to the culture, they can also easily get you into trouble.


According to the State of Wisconsin Department of Transportation, 27,785 people were issued operating while intoxicated (OWI), or “DUI,” citations in 2019. Of the 22,683 OWI citations that were brought before a judge, 92% of drivers were found guilty.


Driving while under the influence is dangerous and puts your life and the lives of those around you at risk, and being arrested or charged with an OWI or DUI carries severe consequences.


Here’s what you need to know about Wisconsin’s operating while intoxicated (OWI), or “DUI” laws.


What is an OWI?

In Wisconsin, a driver is considered under the influence when his or her ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired. A driver is also prohibited from operating a vehicle when they have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08% or more, regardless of level of impairment, or with any detectable amount of a restricted controlled substance, meaning illicit drugs, in their system. For drivers under 21 years of age, it is illegal to drive with any amount of alcohol in the system.


Wisconsin OWI penalties

Penalties for an OWI may vary based on the circumstances of the incident, including the number of offenses for which the individual has been cited.


First OWI Offenses

In Wisconsin, a first OWI offense is considered a traffic violation. While not classified as a criminal violation, it still carries a number of consequences. A first time offender can expect:

  • A $150 - $300 fine, plus a $435 OWI surcharge

  • 6-9 month license revocation

In cases when a driver’s BAC is 0.15% or above, an ignition interlock device (IID) or “in-car breathalyzer” may be required for one year. The IID will require a breath test be taken in order for the vehicle to operate, and if any alcohol is detected in the breath, the car will not start. IIDs are not cheap, and the cost of installation, monthly fees, and removal will likely fall on the driver.


First offenses involving an accident that results in injury, or first offenses that occur with a minor under the age of 16 in the vehicle, will carry more severe consequences.


Multiple OWI Offenses

The penalties for OWI citations grow more severe with each additional offense. Fines will become larger, licenses suspended for longer or indefinitely, and IID devices may be required regardless of BAC levels. As early as the second offense, drivers may face jail time.


A full OWI penalty chart is available here.


Everson-owi penalty chart
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When you’ve been charged with a drunken driving offense, the penalties can severely impact your life. An experienced defense lawyer can provide the guidance you need to protect your future. See our previous blog post to learn more about retaining an OWI attorney and navigating the legal process following an OWI charge.


Schedule a consultation

Over time, Wisconsin’s OWI laws have become more complex and can result in harsh penalties — even for first-time offenders. Our experienced team of OWI/DUI attorneys can provide you with the best opportunity to present a strong case, minimize penalties, and restore your future. If you have questions about a drunken driving arrest, don’t wait until it’s too late. Call the effective legal team at Everson Law Firm, today.