Drivers in Wisconsin: Set down those cellular phones. As of Dec. 1, Badger State police may issue pricey tickets for texting while driving.
As a parent of text-expert teens, practicing my own cellular dexterity, I am relieved to see this law implemented in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Perhaps we will soon see more vehicles pulling over and stopping for brief intervals of electronic communication, rather than on-the-road texting.
Assembly Bill 496, proposed in October 2009 and signed by Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, “prohibits a person from driving while composing or sending an electronic text message.”
Fines for texting while driving in Wisconsin are expected to range from $100 to $400 (for first-time offenses) and from $200 to $800 (for second-time offenses or more). Similarly, inattentive driving carries fines ranging from $20 to $400.
Traffic police in Wisconsin will be encouraged to stop drivers for behind-the-wheel texting, which is considered a primary offense. In other words, officers may pull drivers over for this apparent offense only, even if drivers are otherwise obeying motor vehicle laws.
“All law enforcement officers hope that drivers realize the extreme danger of texting while driving and voluntarily comply with this new law,” explained Wisconsin State Patrol (WSP) Superintendent David Collins (in a Wisconsin Department of Transportation statement on Nov. 30). “But if they don’t, we’re ready to take appropriate enforcement actions to prevent them from killing and injuring themselves and others.”
Texting from parked or stopped cars is not included in the ban, of course, which only applies to vehicles in motion. Wisconsin state transportation officials attributed approximately 18 percent of all 2009 state traffic crashes to distracted drivers. Texting is viewed as particularly dangerous, as the practice may occupy drivers’ hands, eyes and attention.
In our own southeastern Wisconsin community, we have known many drivers (both young and not-so-young) who have bumped other vehicles or even errant wildlife while zipping off text messages. So far, these instances have caused plenty of insults, but no serious injuries. But they surely could have.
“Every time you drive, you are legally and morally responsible for safely operating a potentially destructive-and even deadly-force,” WSP’s David Collins added. “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.”
Wisconsin is the 25th U.S. state to ban behind-the-wheel texting. In the Badger State, behind-the-wheel texting may add four points to a violator’s Wisconsin driver’s license.
Wisconsin Assembly Bill 496 does not apply to operators of authorized emergency vehicles or to global positioning devices. Perhaps the safety of GPS system use while driving will be observed next. How safe can any practice be if it takes drivers’ eyes off the road, even for a moment?