What You Need to Know About OWI/DWI in Wisconsin


I have been driving for 25 years now and have had a perfect driving record – no speeding tickets, no nothing. Well, I made a mistake one day and was pulled over for an OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) in Wisconsin. Here’s my story of what I went through. My aim with this article is that people find out all the penalties and procedures involved so that they can avoid getting one and definitely avoid an accident or even killing someone or themselves.

Before I dive into this, please know that I am not a lawyer or attorney. You should seek your own legal advice and not use what I have listed here as your situation might be different.

What Happened / My Story

I went over to a friend’s house, to a small party, and ended up drinking all day since we were watching football games. I only seriously had 3-4 drinks over that 12 hour period but they were strong ones and I had a little bit of a strong one before I left their place. Also, I didn’t eat much all day.

First, my background… I really don’t drink that much at all. In fact, I could take or leave the taste of alcohol. It’s not really a taste I like. I do like beer (I love Guinness) and like to have one or two on a weekend but that’s really about it. Sometimes I don’t even have one over a weekend. I’m getting older (in my 40s now) and alcohol affects me more the next day. It used to be just headaches and stuff but now it’s worse, so I don’t try to drink that much – especially if I have to work the next day or do anything but sit on the couch and relax. It kind of disables me for the whole next day, so that’s just more incentive not to drink.

Ok, back to my story…

alcohol-car-keysSo we were drinking all day, I thought I was fine and decided to do my 5-6 minute drive home. I thought I could make it. I wasn’t stumbling or anything. I felt fine – just tired. So I started driving and kind of got a little lost in a subdivision where roads curved around a lot. It was a dimly lit subdivision and there was dew on the windshield and I ended up missing a turn and hit a curb. Well, there must have been a policeman watching because he was behind me pretty soon after that.

I did a field sobriety test where I had to walk a line and then blow into a breathalyzer. I blew a 0.12 and the legal limit in Wisconsin is 0.08, so he had to take me in. At the station, I was tested again with the same result and then I was processed. I was let go since it was my first offense (not a crime in Wisconsin… the only state where it’s still not a crime from what I’ve heard) and a sober friend had to come pick me up. I was left in their responsibility for the next 12 hours, so they took me home and then brought my car to me the next morning.

Consequences and Legal Advice

Since this was my first time ever getting a ticket and especially an OWI, I had really no idea what to expect.

I got two tickets. One had a fine of $731 and the other was for $0. They do that for some reason and it’s so that the $0 one can be thrown out. I was set up with a court date. This was in a smaller village, not a big city.

The advice I got from a lawyer was to plead “not guilty” at my trial. From there, he said it might get changed to a “no contest” plea after I met with the village attorney. So I went to my trial and did that. It went quickly with the judge and an appointment was set up to meet with the village attorney, which was actually a phone call.

For some reason, the village attorney was busy and finally got a hold of me the next day. I plead my case but it didn’t seem to do any good. It was not reduced. I was able to apply for an occupational license though.

Occupational License

Since it’s my first offense, there was not a waiting period to get an occupational drivers license. On the night I got my ticket, I was given a notice that my license would be suspended within 30 days. Since the meeting with the village attorney was past the 30 days, I called the Wisconsin DMV and they said I still had to apply for the occupational license. The requirement to get one was to show up with the application and proof of an SR22. When the day of my supposed suspension came, I went to the DMV to fill out the forms and I got different information – it’s the court decision that triggers the license suspension. They said that my license was still valid since there was no final decision on my case.

I actually got conflicting information from the Wisconsin DMV. When I first called, they said I needed to apply. I went there on the date when it might get revoked and, like I said, I was told my license was still valid. I then got a letter in the mail a few days later saying my license was actually revoked. I have no idea why they don’t send this ahead of time – like before your license gets revoked. I’m a bit frustrated how I got different messages and how things were not clear. The only benefit was that I got a few days to work on my driving schedule (hours).

Driver’s License Suspension Date

I then talked to the Team Supervisor at the DMV branch and she apologized for the inaccurate information that I got. I ended up taking a cab there and back but then found out something interesting. She said that I actually had like 9 days after the suspension went into effect to still drive on my suspended license. There are two views on their data. With one view – one that police officers and your average DMV worker sees is that it’s still valid. If they look deeper, they’ll see that it actually has been suspended. They do this so that people have time to receive the letter in the mail and take action on it – in case the mail is delayed, etc. This would explain why I didn’t get a letter before the date that the suspension was supposed to go into effect.

I guess this also gives you a chance to get used to your driving schedule, which is nice. It turns out I didn’t have to take a cab there – and nobody asked me how I got there. So now you know. 🙂

Your Driving Hours

On the application for an occupational license, you’re required to fill in a sheet stating which hours you’ll be driving. I asked a few questions and found out that you want to fill this out completely. If you’re caught driving outside these times, you’ll get your license revoked. I suggest using the maximum amount of hours available if you think you need to. For example, if you list that you’re driving home from work from 5:30 pm to 5:45 pm and you sometimes are asked to stay late, then add more time there so that you can drive home from work.

Occupational Application Hours Spreadsheet Download

To help me figure this out and see which hours would work and see how many hours total it was, I created a spreadsheet in Excel. It works really well and when you’re done, you can print it up and have it with you in your car, at home and at work so that you remember which hours you can drive. I’ve put it here, available for download for free:

OWI-Worksheet.xlsx (MS Excel, 43kb)

I filled in the first one for you as an example so that you can see how it works. Just use military time to get the right AM/PM hours into it.

What is an SR-22?

An SR22 is insurance with extra liability. I talked to my insurance agent and they set me up. My insurance rate went up quite a bit. It just about doubled. My insurance company (American Family Insurance) was able to electronically submit the SR-22 for me.

The Final Results

Well, since I was ticketed in a small village, it has taken a LONG time for their attorney to process it. In fact, I have a month and a half left on my license suspension and I still haven’t paid the fine yet. That’s fine with me and I’m keeping the money aside… it’s kind of strange but I guess that’s how slow government can work.

My insurance went up and it’ll probably stay that high for a few years (it nearly doubled), not just the 6 months. I don’t blame them.

Total Costs

I thought I’d tally up the total costs for an OWI in Wisconsin (for me, at least):

  • $731.00 – Ticket/fine for OWI
  • $50.00 – Occupational license fee
  • $280.00 – Alcohol assessment
  • $240.00 – Group Dynamics course (24 hours total class time – 1 four hour class for 6 weeks) + parking/gas
  • $200.00 – To get my license back after 6 months

My car insurance pretty much doubled (from $76 to $140/mo). It’ll be this way for 3 years, so that’s an additional $2,304.

That’s like $3,805 and a lot of time and trouble for about 8 drinks. That’s $475 per drink!

And then there’s the inconvenience, of course. There’s the feeling like you lost your freedom. There’s the humble pie you have to swallow when you explain to friends why you can’t come out or need a ride. There are the events you miss out on.

Yeah, it sucks.

Advice and What I’m Doing Going Forward

I try to see the silver lining in situations. Yes, I made a mistake but, in some ways, I’m glad this happened.

I’m very thankful that I didn’t hit or kill someone. I don’t know how I would have lived with that. I didn’t even damage my car. I was lucky. I’d rather get this hard slap on the hand and face the consequences and move on more carefully than sometime in the future go on to hit someone or even kill someone drunk driving. That would be terrible and it would be very difficult to live with that. Again, I’m very thankful.

When you go to buy some SR-22 insurance, it sounds like it’s cheaper to go to a different insurance company. Do not go to your present insurance company or your rates will go up and stay up. You can save a LOT by getting your SR-22 insurance from another company and there are several that just offer SR-22 policies. Yes, your insurance company might do a check to see if you have had an OWI but if they don’t, then you’ve just saved a lot of money.

Not Enough Drunk Driving Info Out There

Personally, there are commercials and everything about not drunk driving but there seriously isn’t enough information out there. Here’s what I at least think that state of Wisconsin is doing wrong with their advertising and awareness:

  • What are the rules and consequences? The rules keep changing. It’s difficult to keep up with all the changes. What is the first fine? When do you get put in jail? What happens to your insurance? Can you keep driving?
  • How much is too much? How many drinks can someone have? Does drinking water and eating help? (yes) How can you tell if you’ve really had too much?
  • The government gives out free phones to people – why not have breathalyzer stations?

It’s actually pretty confusing if you haven’t had the experience… so is that the plan of the state? You go through it once and then you know? What kind of policy is that?

Ok, I’m ranting a bit, so I’ll step – my point is they say they’re educating people about drunk driving but when you look at it, it’s really not that clear. If they were more clear about the consequences, it would bring down these sad statistics. It’s not rocket surgery.

The best thing to do is come up with a personal action plan so that you decide ahead of time what you’re going to do to make sure you don’t end up behind the wheel after drinking.

Also (this is important) know that the “legal limit” is just the limit where you automatically get a ticket. You can get a ticket for being at .06 or .02 even. If your driving is impaired and there’s any substance in your body (alcohol or drugs), you can get an OWI ticket. KNOW THAT.

Get a Breathalyzer

You can buy a decent, compact breathalyzer on Amazon or anywhere. Get one. They can actually be kind of fun to play with. Let your friends try it. The more people know about how much they can drink before they need to wait or get a cab ride home, the better – and you’ll be the life of the party with that thing.

Also, if you’re not driving and if your driver is completely sober, stop by a policeman that you see on the side of the road if they’re not busy. Ask to be tested. They should gladly do it. I had a friend say he has done this. Hey, the more you know about your limits, the better!

Here’s the one I bought. I like it:

good-breathalyzerIt’s the BACtrack S35 Breathalyzer Portable Breath Alcohol Tester and I bought it on Amazon. It’s easy to fit in the center console on the car or in a jacket pocket. It’s easy to operate as well – there’s really just one button.

Features include:

  • Advanced semiconductor sensor provides trusted results
  • Ultra-portable design and unmistakable, palm-of-hand feel
  • Stylish cream finish with Caribbean blue display is easy on the eyes
  • Replaceable mouthpieces makes testing friends and relatives safe and easy


The BACtrack S35 breathalyzer is one of the smallest, sleekest breathalyzers on the market. Designed State-side with ease of use and style in mind, this tiny breathalyzer harnesses a powerful proprietary sensing technology and a specially tuned algorithm, delivering results with unheard of accuracy at this price point. You’ll never believe the comfort and security you feel with this tiny unit in your pocket. Just pull it out, turn it on, and blow into it for five seconds.

Never before has a breathalyzer had accurate alcohol sensing technology in a design this fun and affordable. It’s tiny size and funky style makes it easy to test yourself and friends discreetly. It takes only a few seconds to analyze the breath sample, and your estimated BAC will display on the cool, Caribbean blue LCD screen.

Everyone will want to test themselves whether you’re at a party, bar, restaurant, or anywhere else alcohol is consumed. Learn how drinking alcohol affects your Blood Alcohol Content and always make smart, informed decisions. And you can trust the BACtrack S35 Breathalyzer because of BACtrack’s history and experience with personal and professional alcohol testers.

Don’t guesstimate your BAC based on how many drinks you’ve had or how you think you feel–use a BACtrack S35 and know where you stand.

It’s true… when you pull it out at a party to test yourself, you might find it being passed around as people want to know where they’re at. If they’re not driving, they might see how high they can get it to register (not a good idea, really).

Here’s a review of a similar (more expensive) breathalyzer:

Use a Designated Driver

This one’s obvious… you’ve heard it over and over. Either have someone in your group not drink at all or else grab a cab/taxi. It’s SO worth it. Again, you’ll spare yourself all this trouble and expense and, of course, you could avoid hitting someone or killing them. The less drunk drivers there are out there, the more safe you and your family are – even when you’re not partying.


Here are some resources and links you might find useful:


Like I said, I’m glad I didn’t hurt anyone and I’d MUCH rather go through this than hurt or kill someone. It’s not fun but I’m glad it happened, really. I’ve heard stats saying the people that get their first OWI will get another one shortly. That’s not going to be me… no way. I don’t really party that much at all and now I better know what the limits are. I honestly think there should be more programs out there to explain what the laws are, what the penalties are and how your life changes (or should change) after getting an OWI/DUI. Finding out after the fact doesn’t seem ideal… no way.

The class I had to take about drunk driving was actually pretty good (but time consuming). You learn quite a bit about driving under the influence and you work on a “Personal Change Plan” so that you have a plan in place BEFORE you go out drinking so that you don’t end up behind the wheel. That’s smart. Coming up with a plan when you’ve had some drinks just doesn’t work.

They are also saying that texting while driving is just as bad as drinking and driving.

I hope the information I provided here helps at least one person. Feel free to leave comments below.

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