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Wisconsin Watch partners with Gigafact to produce fact briefs — bite-sized fact checks of trending claims. Read our methodology to learn how we check claims.


The rate of recidivism among drivers convicted for operating while intoxicated in Wisconsin surpasses the national estimate.

The national estimate for the rate of recidivism in operating while intoxicated convictions is 29.5%. That is based on a median calculated by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration using 2007-11 data from 22 states, not including Wisconsin. WisContext estimated Wisconsin’s recidivism rate for the same range of years. The average of those estimates is 37.4%  

WisContext found that between 2004 and 2017, the rate of recidivism fell in 61 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties. 

The number of OWI convictions and arrests in Wisconsin also has been declining since the late 2000s. And the number of crashes, injuries and fatalities has decreased sharply since the late 1970s, WisContext found.

Wisconsin is the only state in which a first-time OWI offense is considered a civil offense, not a criminal one.

This Fact Brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.


National Highway Transportation Safety Administration DWI recidivism in the United States

Urban Milwaukee High tolerance: State has 22,000 OWI convictions per year

Google Docs 2007–2011 Wisconsin rate of recidivism in operating while intoxicated convictions

Wisconsin Public Radio Advocates, lawmakers renew push for stricter drunken driving laws In Wisconsin

Infogram Proportion of OWI Convictions for Repeat Offenses

Infogram Wisconsin Alcohol-Related Injuries and Fatalities from Motor Vehicle Crashes

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Jacob Alabab-Moser / Wisconsin WatchFact Checker

Jacob Alabab-Moser joined as Wisconsin Watch’s fact checker in September 2022, as part of the effort by The Gigafact Project in partnership with different state-level news outlets to combat misinformation in the 2022 midterm elections. Jacob has several years of experience as a fact checker and research assistant at a variety of organizations, including at The Gigafact Project. He holds a BA from Brown University and is pursuing a MSc from the London School of Economics and Political Science.