Two Wisconsin bills are aimed at changing state laws about a dangerous substance. Inhaling aerosol sprays, also known as “huffing”, is illegal, in some ways, but not in others.
“You become very dangerous very quickly with inhalants,” says Eau Claire Police Department Sgt. Travis Quella.
Two Wisconsin bills are aimed at a dangerous, yet readily accessible substance: inhalants. Under current state law, inhalants like keyboard cleaner, aren’t defined as intoxicants. That means when someone uses inhalants, and then gets behind the wheel, they can’t be charged with OWI.
“So that person, on the roadway, in certain circumstances, can be as dangerous, or more dangerous than a person under the influence of alcohol, or even prescription medications because they can start to hallucinate, they can black out with no notice, and their car literally becomes a weapon without a driver at the controls,” says Sgt. Quella.
In April, an Eau Claire woman, accused of huffing, crashed her car into city hall. Officers say they found items in her car that led them to believe she may have been huffing. She was charged with OWI, but not because of huffing.
“She had other drugs in her vehicle. Is it very likely that she was huffing before the crash? Yes, but there were other things,” explains Sgt. Quella.
What police can charge the driver with are things like possession of a hazardous substance, a misdemeanor, or reckless driving. But police say that doesn’t get at the root of the problem.
“Whenever that person is not held accountable, I think that there’s a higher likelihood that that person will take to the road again and another likelihood that that person may not get the court-ordered chemical dependency help that he or she needs,” Sgt. Quella says.
Last year, a state appeals court threw out an intoxicated driving charge for an Appleton woman, ruling that the specific chemical the woman “huffed” isn’t an intoxicant. That chemical, known as DFE, is a common ingredient in most aerosol sprays.
“It would be a shame for a case to be lost because the active ingredient in the gas dusters are not covered under statute,” says Sgt. Quella.
Two bills, one in the senate and one in the assembly, would change that.
“A change in legislation would give us another tool to keep the public safe,” says Sgt. Quella.
One bill has been passed by the assembly and a public hearing was just held this past week on both bills.