On December 1, 2010, Wisconsin joined 30 other states prohibiting a person from driving any motor vehicle while composing or sending an electronic text message or an electronic mail message.
The law amends Wisconsin Statute Section 346.89 by expressly declaring that texting while driving is prohibited. Previously, the inattentive driving statute stated only that "No person while driving a motor vehicle shall be so engaged or occupied as to interfere with the safe driving of such vehicle."
The new law also prohibits using a computer to send messages while driving, in addition to using cell phones. The act specifically exempts emergency vehicles, ham-radio operators and the use of hands-free devices.
A Joint State and Federal Effort
Wisconsin joins the majority of other states with texting bans. While many states have been actively working to control this problem by passing legislation prohibiting texting and driving, the federal government, through the Department of Transportation (DOT), has also made it a priority to prevent inattentive and distracted driving, especially on the part of truck and other commercial drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently issued regulations banning texting by interstate commercial drivers.
The FMCSA relied in part on a study that demonstrated the danger texting poses for a driver. The study found the odds of being involved in a crash are 23.2 times greater for someone who text messages while driving.
Like Driving Hundreds of Feet Blindfolded
The study found texting drivers take their eyes off the road in front of them for an average of 4.6 seconds during the six-second period surrounding an accident. In 4.6 seconds, a driver on a 65-mph highway travels 438 feet without his or her eyes on the road.
Wisconsin's new law also changes driver education law to require that approved courses "acquaint each student with the hazards posed by composing or sending electronic text messages." Indeed, young drivers have the highest proportion of distracted driving accidents compared to all other age groups. Recent statistics from the National Highway Transportation Safety Board reveal that 16% of fatal accidents involving drivers under 20 were the result of distracted driving.
Inattentive driving continues to be a problem as more and more sources of distraction are added to cars, from cell phones to GPS units to DVD and game consoles. Wisconsin law already prohibits drivers from having television screens within their views, yet there are numerous manufacturers building in-dash and visor TV screens.
If you have been involved in a crash with a driver you suspect may have been inattentive, contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can investigate your facts and provide you with advice on how to proceed with your case.