Over 770,000 Wisconsinites have at least one OWI conviction

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, more than 778,000 Wisconsinites have been convicted of operating while intoxicated at least once.

With nearly 580,000 people, Milwaukee is the largest city in the state of Wisconsin, yet the number of Wisconsinites with at least one OWI conviction is higher than the city’s entire population.

“It makes sense we have a lot because we’re a heavy beer-drinking state,” said La Crosse’s District Attorney, Tim Gruenke.

It’s well known that Wisconsinites love to drink. La Crosse is home to more bars per capita than any other city in America.

“Drinking is just part of our culture and with that comes some people who to excess,” said Gruenke.

That fun can come at a cost– more bars can lead to more OWIs.


“We’re having an increase of drunk and impaired drivers, whether it be drugs or alcohol throughout the years,” said Wisconsin State Trooper, Christina Holtz.

On Thursday, an Onalaska man was arrested by the Wisconsin State Patrol for operating a motor vehicle under the influence. It was his sixth offense.

“A lot of people tend to get third, fourths and fifths, and you just have to wonder why they’re not learning,” said Gruenke. According to Gruenke, OWIs are the majority of the cases his office prosecutes.

Holtz says as Wisconsinites reach the end of a cold stretch, the number of OWIs is expected to increase this New Year’s weekend.

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“We could potentially see an increase in impaired drivers instead of people staying at home due to bad weather,” said Holtz. In 2021, roughly 6,400 crashes were caused by impaired drivers. This year, that number has increased to 7,000.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, during the 2020 holiday season, 209 people were killed in a drunk-driving-related crash.

“There’s a ripple effect that affects all of us,” said Holtz.

This holiday weekend, Trooper Holtz says to make the smart decision – don’t drink and drive.