Wisconsin: Cell phone laws, legislation

Last updated: May 15, 2014
Cell phone, texting update: A plan to prohibit use of handheld cell phones while driving has been filed by state Rep. Peter Barca and state Sen. John Lehman. “It will not be easy to pass this bill, obviously,” said Barca, father of Wisconsin’s 2010 texting & driving law.

wisconsin flag for cell phone story “This is a common-sense public safety proposal that would help keep Wisconsin’s drivers and pedestrians safe,” Barca said. “We must use technology, such as hands-free options, whenever possible to enhance safety.” The plan would allow use of cell phone-based GPS.

The city of Wausau approved a ban on handheld cell phone use Feb. 11. Cell phone GPS use is allowed if destinations are input before the vehicle is in motion. Tickets will cost $111. Rhinelander OK’d its own law in mid-May, with $75 fines.

Wisconsin’s ban on use of all cell phones by novice drivers went into effect Nov. 1, 2012. The law primarily impacts teen drivers with learner’s permits, but it also affects drivers of any age with probationary licensing.

Fines for violating the new cell phone law are $20-$40 for the first offense; and $50 to $100 for subsequent convictions within a year.

Read the 2012 graduated driver’s license cell phone law.

Current prohibitions:

  • Text messaging outlawed for all drivers. Fines from $20 to $400 with a possible 4 points against the driver’s license. Primary enforcement.
  • Drivers with restricted licenses prohibited from using cell phones (effective Nov. 1, 2012).
  • The state outlaws distracted driving, or “being so engaged or occupied as to interfere with the safe driving of that vehicle.” The fine is $173 and 4 points.

Distracted driving notes (2014):
A bill that would bar all drivers from using handheld cell phones in roadway construction zones has been filed by state Sen. Jerry Petrowski. Fines would range from $20 to $100. Petrowski’s Senate Bill 479 was OK’d by the Transportation Committee in mid-January.

2013-2014 distracted driving legislation:
Distracted driving legislation (filed in 2014):
LRB 3084: Would outlaw driving while using handheld wireless communications devices. Fines: $20 to $400. Exempts GPS in phones. (Barca, Lehman)

Assembly Bill 639: Would prohibit driving while using a mobile phone in a construction zone unless a hands-free attachment is employed. Fines: $20 to $40 (first offense), then $50 to $100. Approved by the Transportation Committee in a unanimous vote of Feb. 4. (Spiros)

Senate Bill 479: Would prohibit drivers from using handheld cell phones in a construction zone (“highway maintenance or construction area or in a utility work area”). Fine: Up to $40 (first offense), then $50 to $100. Approved by Transportation on Jan. 16, 2014. (Petrowski)

Assembly Bill 124: Seeks to rewrite and clarify behaviors cited under state’s general distracted driving law. To existing prohibition on operating a vehicle with TV display visible to driver, would add cable & satellite TV images and prerecorded video images. Exempts some commercial vehicles and emergency vehicles from video signal ban. Approved by Transportation Committee in a unanimous vote of Feb. 7, 2014. (Bies)

2013 distracted driving notes:
Lobbyists from the auto industry and Apple computers are among those weighing in on an Assembly plan to broaden the state’s ban on driving while viewing video images.

Nationwide, auto industry lobbyists are busy opposing any state legislation that threatens use of in-dash “infotainment” systems. Apple is developing its own dashboard computer systems. The Wisconsin bill from state Rep. Gary Bies (AB 124) was OK’d by the Transportation Committee in February 2014.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declared September the “Don’t Text & Drive: It Can Wait” awareness month. “While Wisconsin bans texting and driving, we must continue to raise awareness about the deadly consequences of this practice and urge all drivers to never text and drive,” said State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. The Wisconsin State Patrol, AT&T and AAA plan a series of distracted driving presentations for state high schools throughout the year.

Distracted driving notes (archive):
Vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among state teenagers, the Wisconsin DOT reports. Rep. Kathy Bernier’s Assembly Bill 291, the graduated license law, was approved unanimously by the House and Senate. The governor signed it into law March 29, 2012.

The Department of Transportation is getting out the word on the new cell phone law that went into effect Nov. 1, 2012. “Traffic crashes kill more teenagers in Wisconsin and the rest of the nation than any other cause of death,” said Sandra Huxtable, director of the Wisconsin Bureau of Transportation Safety. “And distracted driving is a factor in many of these crashes. … Any lapse in attention to traffic or road conditions is a grave danger to you, your passengers and everyone else on the road,” Huxtable said in a DOT press sheet on the cell phone law.

Wisconsin’s new cell phone ban also applies to drivers of all ages with probationary licenses. That includes drivers licensed in other countries; people with suspended or revoked instruction permits or probationary licenses; new residents with fewer than three years of driving experience and/or are under age of 21; and new residents who surrender a license that is expired for more than six months.

A young adult from Stevens Point received a 10-year sentence Nov. 12, 2012, for killing a man after running a stop sign while texting. John French, 23, was convicted of second-degree reckless homicide under a plea bargain.

A young woman from Sun Prairie has been found guilty of vehicular homicide in the texting-related death of a college student. Stephanie Kanoff will be sentenced for homicide by negligent driving several months after the July 27, 2012, conviction by jury.

Rep. Kathy Bernier, R-Lake Hallie, found bipartisan support for her plan to bar teen drivers from using cell phones. “Cell phone use is terribly distracting, even for seasoned drivers,” Bernier said after her legislation was approved by the governor in late March, 2012.

Wisconsin’s ban on text messaging while driving specifically prohibits the writing and transmitting of messages while the vehicle is in motion. It does not outlaw the reading of text messages or use of the Internet. Police say they’ll fall back on the inattentive driving law if other activities on handheld electronic devices lead to unsafe behaviors. Wisconsin was the 25th state to outlaw texting while behind the wheel. It went into effect in December 2010.

Law officers in Green Bay had written two tickets almost a year after the state’s texting and driving law went into effect. Police and deputies blame the texting law itself, which allows typing on handheld devices in order to make a cell phone call. Wisconsin Assembly Bill 496 sponsor Rep. Peter Barca told WBAY: “The goal of the text-messaging ban was not to be able to issue all kinds of citations to make revenue for our community. It really was to try to help communicate how dangerous of a practice it is to text while driving.”

State Rep. Dean Kaufert, R-Neenah, correctly predicted that legislation limiting use of cell phones while driving would not succeed in 2011. “Many legislators were reluctant to go any further (at the time of the texting ban’s approval),” he told Gannett Wisconsin. “There’s not a huge outcry to ban cell phones.”

Inattentive driving was the most frequently cited “possible contributing factor” in crashes reported in 2010. Links to distracted driving logged 22,340 times.

State officials say 18 percent of Wisconsin’s vehicle crashes in 2009 were caused by distracted drivers.

2011-2012 distracted driving legislation:
Assembly Bill 291: Would prohibit use of all cell phones and other wireless handheld communications devices by drivers with probationary licenses and instruction permits. Fines: $20-$40 (first offense), then $50-$100. (Original bill’s fines were $50, then $50-$100.) Amended and then approved by the Assembly in a unanimous vote of Feb. 21, 2012. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee in a 4-1 vote taken March 12. Approved by the Senate (without changes) on March 13. Enacted: Enacted by the governor March 29, 2012. Takes effect Nov. 1, 2012. (Bernier, Petrowski)

AB 131: Would prohibit a school bus driver or any driver involved in “pupil transportation services” from using a cellular telephone or other wireless telecommunications device while the vehicle is on the roadway or loading or unloading passengers. Fine: $200 then up to $500. With second conviction, loss of school bus license for six months. Killed in the Senate on March 23. (Kerkman)


AB 206
: Would add cable TV and satellite TV to current prohibition against drivers’ viewing of broadcast signals. Also prohibits drivers from viewing “fluctuating images” (catch-all term). Creates category of inattentive driving targeting any viewing of entertainment content by drivers. Killed in the Senate on March 23. (Bies)

2010 legislation:
Wisconsin Assembly Bill 496: Would outlaw text messaging while driving. Fines from $20 to $400 (formerly $100-$800). The Assembly Transportation Committee voted 12-0 to approve the bill on Nov. 10, 2009. Approved by the full Assembly on Jan. 19, 2010, and sent to Senate, which amended and signed off on the bill April 13. Final approval came in the Assembly on May 4 and AB 496 was sent to the governor, who signed the legislation May 5. (Barca)

Wisconsin Senate Bill 103: Would prohibit use of text messaging devices while driving on state roads and highways. Approved by the state Senate in a 27-5 bipartisan vote on Oct. 20, 2009. The Assembly approved its version, AB 496, above, on Jan. 19. (Lasee)

AB 341: Would prohibit any under age 18 who is driving under an instruction permit or probationary license from using a cell phone of any kind, or other wireless telecommunications devices if they are not installed in the vehicle. Last seen in Assembly Rules Committee. (Pasch)

SB 91: Would ban school bus drivers from using cell phones or other wireless communications devices while transporting students. Approved by the Senate Transportation Committee in a unanimous vote on Sept. 16, 2009, and sent to the Rules Committee. (Carpenter)

SB 355: Seeks to outlaw text messaging while driving. Sent to Senate Transportation Committee on Oct. 16, 2009. (Lehman)

2010 legislation notes:
Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, saw his anti-text messaging legislation AB 496 approved by the full Assembly in an 89-6 vote on Jan. 19. The Senate passed its version, SB 103, in October. Fines and penalties are the only differences of note between the two bills.

“We don’t foresee a problem with the Barca bill,” a spokeswoman for state Sen. Russ Decker, D-Weston, told the Wisconsin State Journal in a story on the text messaging bill passage.

Assembly Majority Leader Tom Nelson, D-Kaukauna, made it a priority to schedule a vote on the text messaging bill AB 496 when the 2010 session began.

The Wisconsin teen-driving bill, AB 341, would bring fines of up to $40 for a first offense and up to $100 for subsequent violations in the same year. Sponsor Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Whitefish Bay, is not in favor of expanding the bill to include all drivers. “Many people are still reluctant to give up their cell phones, despite the evidence.” The bill received an Assembly committee hearing on Sept. 10, 2009.

The text messaging bill SB 103 would bring fines of between $100 and $400 for first offenses; between $200 and $400 for subsequent offenses; and between $300 and $2,000 for causing bodily harm while texting. 30-day jail terms could apply for injury accidents. State Sen. Alan Lasee, R-De Pere, is the sponsor. The bill was approved by the transportation committee on July 17, 2009. Lasee agreed to change the bill to include just drivers under 18, but Republicans pushed for the plan to cover all drivers before passage on Oct. 20. The text messaging ban was sent to the Assembly and approved by its Transportation Committee.

A similar bill on driving while text messagingSB 355 — passed the Senate but ultimately failed last year.

“It does not take a rocket scientist to come to the conclusion that text messaging is one of the most dangerous things that one can do while driving,” Lasee has said. “This is no different than writing out Christmas cards to your family while driving down the road, and it is an accident waiting to happen.”

The city of Black Rock is considering a ban on cell phone use for all drivers.

State Rep. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, has three times proposed bans on teenage drivers using cell phones and text-messaging devices.

Here’s a scary one: Two teenage girls in the Town of Rietbrock were both cited for driving while drinking and text messaging. They crashed their car and it rolled over. Apparently the passenger was steering while the driver text messaged.

Regional ordinances
Waupaca County has banned handheld cell phone use by drivers and text messaging, but the sheriff has refused to enforce the mobile phone ordinance. “I think the right way to go about it is statewide,” Sheriff Brad Hardel said. “I would prefer to use it as a warning and educational device at this point.”

The city of Kenosha has banned text messaging while driving. The ordinance was approved in November 2008.

Comments

  1. Sharon Cornehls says:

    Wondering if there is any legislation being considered against the use of cell phones while driving. My husband and I were almost hit today on 76th St. near Southridge by a young girl on the cell phone. She started wandering into our lane, not sure she was even aware how close she came to hitting us.

    Thank you. Sharon Cornehls

  2. I think the state of WI should consider a ban on cell phone usage while driving, period. It is increasingly apparent that the distraction of either talking or texting added to attempting to operate a vehicle is too much for many to handle. I’d prefer to keep my life, thanks.

  3. LISA BROWN says:

    I do not understand why this is even an “issue.” Taking your eyes off the road to text, email, read, surf the net….plain and simple- is wrong! Common sense. Why do we need a law (though I truly understand why) to tell us people are being plain stupid? Shut the darn thing off- it was not that long ago that most of us had to WAIT until we got home to make or take a phone call. Come on..

  4. Lynn Van Handel says:

    I am more fearful of being killed by a cell phone driver than a drunk driver. They out number the drunks a thousand to one!!!!! There should be absolutely no question in anyone’s mind about this. What is the argument???????

  5. NEED law banning cell phone usage in Wisconsin and the entire country! Agree with Lynn, what is stalling this law and why any argument about it?

  6. David Brommer says:

    PLEASE OUTLAW CELL PHONE USE WHILE DRIVING. i HAVE HAD TOO MANY CLOSE CALLS.

  7. cell phones should only be allowed in cars if used with bluetooth/handsfree devices. texting or dialing the phone – what’s the difference? ban it all. people are getting carried away with this and people will be killed. Maybe the phone in the car should just not be allowed by drivers when it is in motion – they are distracted even when just talking. I work in the railroad industry and we are not allowed to even have it turned on while on the train, this should be a standard – we don’t even steer.

  8. If we can have a limit on BAC that still allows some drivers to be safe, I think there also could be a law that allows a minimal amount of phone usage and still keep it safe. Yes, many people don’t even get near .08 and they are unsafe on the road. But so many can be above that and still be safe on the road. In the same way, many of us younger adults can text just fine barely looking at the screen. I don’t think we should be punished just because some drivers can multitask. I think the law should add a penalty if the driver was driving unsafe and it was because of texting. On the other hand, I strongly disagree with the idea that cops should just start ticketing everybody they see texting. It can be done safely.

  9. While I think it is generally a good idea to make the roads safer, I think an outright ban is wrong and takes away my freedom to use my phone when I feel fit. I don’t think generalizing the entire public will work in cases like this. There have been car crashes before cell phones and there will continue to be crashes after this ban. For every study you can find saying that banning reduces crashes, I can find one saying it doesn’t.

    If you people feel safer allowing the government telling you what you can and cannot do then more power to you, I like to choose for myself.

  10. brad thede says:

    I like reading all these posts by people who think its ok for big brother to take your freedom all in the name of “safety”. You’re probably the same people who think the patriot act stops the boogeyman from getting us.

  11. While we are at it, let’s ban eating, reading, GPS, computers, portable DVD players, putting on makeup, arguing with you spouse, ect. How about the sheriffs deputy that I saw run a stop sign the other day while looking at his patrol car computer mounted right next to him.

  12. Regarding the people here giving example of almost getting hit…guess what? The people that almost hit you were already breaking the law before this law was passed. Inattentive driving and Illegal lane change laws are already on the books…why do we need to waste time making more? And why target this specifically? If you want to start banning stuff, why stop here?

    -browsing songs on your ipod
    -looking for a cd
    -going through radio stations
    -having kids in the back seat when you’re the only adult in the car
    -billboards
    -doing hair/makeup
    -eating/drinking/messing with food
    -smoking

    And the list goes on and on. Ultimately, it is the driver’s responsibility to make sure they are operating their vehicle in a responsible manner. You can’t legislate people into being good drivers.

  13. So good to see that some people realize that legislation doesn’t make people safer. They are just attacking ONE unsafe practice, because they can villianize one boogyman. It is because it is one that they can get proof of (they can take your phone as evidence). You can’t prove that someone was distracted by their ipod or a sandwich or a newspaper, but they can prove a text. You can’t legislate stupid, so they have to legislate other things.

  14. trevor hook says:

    why don’t they just ban cell phone use over all? how can’t you text but you can use the internet. i think using the internet would be worst then texting.

  15. I’m going vigilante. If you want to be unsafe around me whilst being distracted, I’ll make you pay attention. Everybody I see driving distracted will get CUT OFF VIOLENTLY.

  16. I think this whole argument has gotten a little bit out of hand. I agree with the points made about accidents happening before this ban came into effect, but to suggest that the government should just start banning whatever they feel like is a pointless argument. That’s not what is trying to get accomplished here.

    Ultimately, if people are going to suggest that the government should just start banning everything or that they shouldn’t be allowed to ban stuff like this and take our freedom away….wouldn’t it be okay for me then to go around and drive into people because I’m free to do what I choose? If I want to text and not pay attention to the road and take out whoever I feel like hitting because my message is so important that it can’t wait until i get home shouldn’t I be allowed to do that?

    I myself have attempted texting while driving among other things and it just doesn’t work out all that well. If sending a message about the type of bread i should pick up at the store is more important than my safety (or others’) I suppose i deserve getting into an accident for the sake of being “free” to choose.

  17. I find it sad that you all including the government find it ok to be harder on people for texting on a phone then drunk drivers. And I love how you can read the messages that’s just as bad even so the new phones when you text you can talk to your phone and it will text for you. If Wisconsin wants this to be ban then maybe they should have radio stations stop saying text if you see a problem or be the 6th text message and you win this.

    I don’t agree with completely banning phones in a car if I get in a accident I want my phone to call for help duh. Or if someone is following me or I see a drunk driver its a good thing to have a cell phone

  18. I can shave while driving, gel my hair, change cd’s and radio stations, I can eat, I can reach into my backseat to grab and soda and open it while steering the car with my knees as i open my soda, but yet these are all things I feel are much greater distractions but are not illegal. This law is a quick fix to a growing problem, sure some accidents are cause by people on their phones I will not debate that. However, I am sure just as many are cause by a multitude of other things.

    Are they going to ban steroes next? CD Players, or maybe driving young children around, because believe me kids fighting in the backseat is one hell of a driving hazard. This will not keep people safe, it just gives officers one more thing they can pull you over for, but hey schools and highways need money too right? 400 dollar is excessive, the first offense drunk driving fine is 800 so that seems rediculous.

    Why can’t they just sign a law against inattentive driving. If they see you doing something stupid and driving like an idiot then pull you over, targeting cell phones will for one thing not stop anyone from doing it, and will not stop accidents from happening.

  19. reallyhereintheunitedstates says:

    Ok I know people are killed by use of texting on cell phones we all know this. But did we realize people are killed daily by people driving with animals on their laps, kid yelling in the back seat, eating, being to tried having the sun in your eyes or maybe you just blinked for a minute. Our goverment finds a reason to ban the smallest things but fogets to ban wars, sending our boys and girls off to another country to be hated by all. Or maybe we should wonder where all the jobs went or why so many people are unemployed? Seem if its an on going problem what isn’t?

  20. Here is the real deal of it. Any hands-free legislation is completely stupid. I do agree and support the practice of removing and or penalizing unsafe drivers. You CANNOT prove that someone was texting while driving. Sure, you can pull phone history and see a text being sent or received. Sure, you can pull history and see when a call was made or received. But just try and prove that the source of that text was my fingers. Try and prove that I dialed the number. I have an Iphone 3GS and my phone allows me to text without even touching a button as well as take calls completely hands free. The actual text messages or voice calls arent specifically coded as hands free or not, therefore there is no way to prove 100% unless this is video taped clearly which would cause us to have to drastically increase budgets to law enforcement that many areas ALREADY won’t do.

    Word to the wise, you can’t pass laws to change people; the people you want to change already don’t care about common sense, so why would passing a law help.

    Here is the resolution: Require all registered vehicles to have the cell signal blocking apparatus installed into all motorized registered vehicles. The devices only work when the car is running, and with only a limited range. If your car dies, it wouldn’t be on, so it wouldn’t block you from getting roadside assistance.

    Don’t let stupid people remain stupid, stop the source of the problem.

  21. Yes stupidity is stupidity and you CANT change people – and yes cell phones being used while driving IS a distraction but so are a million of other things. Passing this law is NOT going to turn stupid. inconsiderate people into smart, caring people. TOO many STUPID LAWS. I have been paying attention and the government is slowly removing all of our freedoms – its not starting with this cell phone crap.

  22. Bradley Coon says:

    I recently relocated to Milwaukee from L.A. California outlawed driving and talking an a cell phone years ago and has saved countless lives and property. I was floored when I was told from my new insurance agent that it’s OK to drive and talk on a Cell phone. Now I understand why the speed limits are set so ridiculously low, apparently so people can talk and not drive. Please pass a comprehensive law against cell phone driving. $20.00 fee for texting, that is a joke. This violation should start at $300.

  23. Irma Geissler says:

    Cell phone ban for new drivers – finally a step in the right direction. If it was for me, I would have made hands-free devices in cars obligio for everybody and would punish violations (talking and texting of course) draconic. The distraction from a cell phone is bigger, than all other distractions together. “What you do with your own life is your business, but it is not your right to put others in danger”- my driving teacher in Germany said that during my first lesson.

  24. I just don’t understand it why they created this law for just teens. Everywhere you look there are adults on their cell phones. Very sad!

  25. Generally, this law is not a bad one. But I hate to be the one to tell everyone, its NOT just teenage drivers that get in accidents because of cell phones. it is also the “very experienced” and older drivers. I realize everyone likes to blame the “dumb teenagers who are so incapable of driving” BUT its obvious they do not realize that they too can be just as bad. Driving and talking on the phone should be outlawed for EVERYONE from 16 and up!

  26. Brad coon says:

    It’s stupid to think that only young, inexperienced drivers should be band from talking on cell phones while driving. I have recently moved here from California which made it illegal to drive while texting and talking on cell phones years ago. This state is very slow to catching up to what is only common scents. This new law should be for all drivers.

  27. Al Cinamon says:

    Most people just don’t get it. It makes perfect sense to pass laws just for teenagers … if you’re a politician. Youngsters don’t vote and can’t retaliate. Do you ever see laws passed that only apply to seniors? How about retesting seniors after reaching a certain age? Never happen. They have AARP on their side and will retaliate.

  28. Andrew honestly you are wrong when a person is on there phone they do not see what is around them. There was a study a few years ago where a clown was riding around on a unicycle in a park area. People on there cellphone we asked if they saw anything unusual and not one said that they saw what was there. So imagine how that transfers to driving. All states need a law like this one and there should be a device in the car that disables the cellphone unless it is in a hands free device holder.

  29. Tammie McClure says:

    I was recently hit by a driver talking on his cell phone. He admitted to me and the police that he was on his phone and “not paying attention”. Because he was talking and not texting I cannot sue for punitive damages though I’ve been out of work, had to pay medical bills up front before his insurance will settle and it has put me, the victim in a financial hardship.

    I don’t see a problem with cell phone usage on rural highways or light traffic but this was during the 5pm rush hour on the 1-30 river bridge.
    I might have to have surgery on my spinal cord because of his “not paying attention”.

  30. Al Cinamon says:

    Tammie, I feel terrible about your horrific experience. And yet, there are people (many on this site) who refuse to acknowledge that driving demands a person’s full attention. They all think they’re superior human beings who can “multitask” until something bad happens. And, even then, they might say it’s the “other guys fault.”

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