A new state law that prohibits drivers with an instruction permit or probationary license—which includes many teenagers—from “using a cellular or other wireless telephone except to report an emergency” while driving takes effect on Nov. 1. A driver violating this restriction on cell phone use is subject to a forfeiture of $20 to $40 for a first offense and $50 to $100 for a subsequent offense within a year.
“We hope that the new law will deter teenagers and other inexperienced drivers from using their cell phone while behind the wheel, which can be a dangerous distraction,” says Wisconsin State Patrol Maj. Sandra Huxtable, director of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Safety. “In a national study, 43 percent of 16 and 17-year-olds said they have talked on a cell phone while driving, and 40 percent of teens up to age 17 said they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger.”
According to Major Huxtable, cell phone use can distract a driver’s attention from traffic and road conditions. “Distracted driving is a problem even for experienced drivers. But it often is even more hazardous for teen drivers who are not experienced,” she says. “Traffic crashes kill more teenagers in Wisconsin and the rest of the nation than any other cause of death. And distracted driving is a factor in many of these crashes.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 11 percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.
Although the law will affect many teen drivers, the cell phone restrictions also apply to other drivers with a Wisconsin probationary license, such as:
• Drivers licensed in other countries
• Persons with suspended or revoked instruction permits or probationary licenses
• New state residents who have fewer than three years of driving experience
• New state residents under the age of 21
• New state residents who surrender a license that is expired for more than six months
Wisconsin law also prohibits texting while driving for all motorists of all ages. To prevent distractions from cell phone use and texting while driving, the State Patrol advises all drivers to:
• Turn off your phone or switch to a silent mode.
• Use voice mail to tell callers that you’re driving and will return the call as soon as possible.
• If you absolutely need to use your cell phone to call or text, pull over to a safe area.
• Ask a passenger to make a call or text for you.
Cell phone use and texting are just two of many types of distractions that increase a driver’s risk of causing a crash or failing to avoid one, according to Major Huxtable.
“Every time you drive, you are legally and morally responsible for safely operating a potentially destructive—and even deadly—force,” she says. “That’s why driving requires your undivided attention. Any lapse in attention to traffic or road conditions is a grave danger to you, your passengers and everyone else on the road. No attempt to multi-task in your vehicle, no phone call, and no text message is more important than a human life.”