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Snowmobilers Who Drink and Drive: What's the Law?

 Posted on January 06, 2017 in Criminal Defense

Wisconsin snowmobiler drink and drive. Milwaukee OWI attorneyBy James Lewis

Winter in Wisconsin is in full-swing now, and more than 25,000 miles of snowmobile trails are open.  The 2016-17 snowmobile season will see more than 200,000 riders throughout the state.  Before taking to the trails, it is important that you know about how Wisconsin OWI laws affect snowmobile operators.   

First, if you are driving your snowmobile on a public trail, road or highway, then Wisconsin OWI laws, the legal limit (.08 BAC) and penalties will likely apply to you if you drink alcohol and drive your snowmobile.  If you are on private property, then the rules on having to submit to a chemical test may differ, unless another criminal offense or accident has occurred.  Going off-trail, onto lakes, etc., can vary the penalties that apply.  Fines for a snowmobile OWI can range between $400 and $2000, depending on how many similar infractions you have on your record and the nature of the incident.   In addition to fines, drivers found to be operating under the influence of alcohol may also have their privilege to operate a snowmobile revoked by a court upon conviction. However, unlike automobile OWI law, which counts the lifetime number of prior OWI violations, the snowmobile OWI laws only count violations within the previous five years.

In the last session of the Wisconsin Legislature, a bill was proposed to bring current snowmobile OWI laws into regulations which look more like automobile OWI laws. The proposed legislation pointed out some of the major differences between getting an OWI on a snowmobile and while driving a car. The proposed legislation, however, failed to pass the Senate vote and has not yet been enacted into law.

Thus, the current Wisconsin snowmobile OWI laws have major distinctions from automobile OWI laws. Having an attorney who understands these distinctions and how they impact on your defense, can make all the difference if you have been arrested or issued a citation for an OWI while snowmobiling.

One of the unchanged snowmobile OWI laws is that young snowmobilers have a lower age of absolute sobriety. The age of absolute sobriety is the minimum age that a person may have any trace of alcohol in their blood stream while operating a motor vehicle. While operating a snowmobile, a person under the age of 19 may not have a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) above 0.00. The absolute sobriety age for an automobile driver is 21. This means that a snowmobile operator between the age of 19 and 21 does not face the absolute sobriety requirement.  

Additionally, there is a difference between aggravating an OWI offense when a person is heavily intoxicated. The automobile OWI law accelerates the fines and jail time based upon the driver's BAC at the time of the violation. An elevated BAC for an automobile OWI can accelerate the fine and jail penalty from double to quadruple penalties. Wisconsin snowmobile OWI laws do not accelerate penalties based on the operator’s BAC. Harsher penalties for highly intoxicated drivers are not applicable to snowmobile drivers. This distinction is key when facing a snowmobile OWI charge.

Lastly, it is important to understand how other, non-automobile OWI violations affect the sentencing of snowmobile OWI violations in Wisconsin. When a person receives an OWI on an ATV, boat, UTV, or other motorized, non-automobile, the current snowmobile OWI laws do not count those other violations when imposing a fine or jail sentence for the snowmobile OWI violation. For example, under the current law, if a person gets their first OWI on an ATV and then gets another OWI on a snowmobile, the sentence for the snowmobile OWI will be treated as a first-time violation.

At Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin & Brown, LLP we understand the uncertainty and anxiety that an arrest and charge of OWI brings with it. Our Milwaukee criminal defense attorneys have many years of experience and will fight aggressively to defend your rights and try to obtain the most favorable outcome practicable to your situation. Get the skilled representation you need and deserve.  Don't let a lesser experienced law firm leave you out in the cold this winter.  Call 414-271-1440 and schedule a consultation today.


Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources - http://dnr.wi.gov/files/pdf/pubs/le/le0201.pdf

Wisconsin Department of Transportation - http://wisconsindot.gov/Documents/safety/education/drunk drv/owipenaltychart.pdf

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