Skip to content

Wisconsin OWI Laws

The charge of Operating While Intoxicated (OWI) is a very serious charge in Wisconsin. In 2003, Wisconsin became the 43rd state to lower the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) to a level of 0.08%, which makes the OWI laws even tougher than before on those who drink and drive.

OWI Charges In Wisconsin

If you are arrested and charged with an OWI, you will likely want to engage the services of a good OWI attorney. Whether you believe yourself guilty or not, the charge of OWI is a serious enough offense, with mandatory jail time along with other penalties, that the court will assign you legal representation if you cannot afford your own.


What Constitutes Drunk Driving?

If you are over 21 years old, here are the four ways that the law defines intoxication:

  • Driving with a BAC of 0.08% or greater.
  • Driving while under the influence of an intoxicant, including alcohol, legal prescription medications, illegal or controlled drugs, or other chemical substances.
  • Driving with a detectable amount of any restricted controlled substance in the blood stream.
  • Driving while under the influence of a controlled substance or any other drug.

While the last three definitions sound alike, they are written that way so that they cover a wide variety of intoxicating substances, whether the substance in the bloodstream is intoxication by a valid prescription medication to an illegally-obtained controlled substance.

Refusal to Test

If you are arrested and asked for a blood or breath sample for testing and you refuse, you may incur additional penalties including a suspension of your driver’s license, possible jail time, and a monetary fine.

OWI Consequences

Here are the penalties for a 1st offense OWI:

  • Fine: Between $150 to $300
  • OWI surcharge: $365
  • License suspension: 6 to 9 months
  • Occupational license: Allowed.
  • Assessment of alcohol/drug use: Yes.
  • Ignition Interlock Device: Depends on BAC level.

The alcohol/drug use assessment is an examination of the drinking and drug use of the convicted OWI driver to determine whether or not a drug or alcohol problem exists. These basements are performed by a trained alcohol/drug counselor and, depending on the results, will result in a referral to either an educational program or a counseling program.

The occupational license is a limited driver’s license that will allow the convicted OWI driver to drive a vehicle to and from home and work or home and school.

Wisconsin provides an online tool for you to check whether or not you are eligible for an occupational license.

Subsequent Convictions

The first conviction penalties for an OWI driver is geared toward education and changing the habits of the convicted driver. Additional conviction penalties do not offer the same leniency. The fines, license suspensions, and driving record points increase for each additional conviction, along with mandatory jail time for any subsequent OWI convictions.

Ignition Interlock Device

An Ignition Interlock Device is a alcohol measuring device which is attached to your ignition or starter. Before being able to start your vehicle you will have to blow into a tube that will detect any alcohol in your system. If there is alcohol present you will not be able to start your vehicle.

As of July 1st, 2010 Ignition Interlock Device will be required to be installed for a minimum of 1 year for the following circumstances:

  • OWI repeat offenders.
  • Anyone who refuses a chemical test.
  • Anyone who has a 1st offense OWI with a BAC of 0.15% or higher.

An IID carries certain fees, which you will be responsible to pay. these include: installation fee, monthly leasing fee, maintenance fees, and any other fees the approved vendor may require. You will need to return to the vendor every 60 days to download the data and make sure the unit is functioning properly.

For more information on IIDs see the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s IID FAQ page.

Reinstating You Driver’s License

Whether you are returning to driving with an Occupational license* or are reinstating your regular driver’s license, you may be required to:

When reinstating your license you will be required to bring all of your required identification, as well as pay all fees associated with a new license. In some cases you may be able to reinstate your driver’s license online.