Wisconsin Texting Laws


Wisconsin Distracted Driving Law

  1. Ban on texting for all drivers (Primary Law).
  2. Ban on cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for novice drivers (Primary Law).

Wisconsin’s Texting While Driving Stand

Wisconsin joined 24 other states to ban texting while driving. The anti-texting law began as bill AB 496 and was backed by Rep. Peter Barca. While other bills that have been filed in the 2011-2012 legislative session aim to prevent distracted driving, those bills do not focus on preventing the use of handheld cell phones altogether while driving. Barca is working on legislation for 2012 that would make using any handheld wireless device while driving illegal.

Although it is difficult to see whether a driver is actually writing a text message or doing something else, such as answering a phone call, according to Wisconsin state police, 162 citations were written in the first nine months during which the texting law was in effect.

Current law

• No driver may use text messaging behind the wheel.

• Distracted driving, which is defined as anything that hinders the safe driving of a vehicle, merits a fine of $173 as well as four points against a driver’s license.

• Drivers who are caught texting may be fined up to $400, and they may also receive up to four points against their license.

Texting vs. Distracted Driving

The anti-texting legislation only outlaws writing and sending messages while driving. Although the law does not bar reading text messages or using the internet, police can use the distracted driving provision if drivers present a hazard because they are participating in these actions.

The objective of the anti-texting law was specific. It was not created so law officers could issue rampant citations and increase revenue. It was simply an attempt to emphasize the gravity of texting while driving. In the Green Bay area, police only wrote two citations during the first 11 months that the anti-texting law was in effect.

Even though the law limiting texting is difficult to enforce, it has been difficult to pass a law banning all cell phone use by drivers. However, almost 20 percent of the auto accidents in Wisconsin in 2009 were caused by distracted drivers.

Wisconsin Distracted Driving Legislation

Several bills filed in 2011-2012 addressed the use of cell phones while driving. Some specifically banned the use of wireless devices by minors and school bus drivers. Another bill would prevent drivers from watching a screen with a fluctuating image. This addresses television, movies and other forms of entertainment.

In 2010, the current anti-texting legislation was presented in the form of Wisconsin Assembly Bill 496. This bill would ban text messaging while driving and was signed into law on May 5. Other legislation banned text messaging on state roads and highways and barred minors or those driving with a learner’s permit to use a handheld wireless device entirely. AB 341 is a teen-driving bill that requires teenagers who use handheld devices to pay fines of between $40 and $100. Although many backs this bill, they are hesitant to extend the prohibition to drivers of all ages.

AB 496 was approved by the Assembly at the beginning of 2010. The Senate’s version of the bill, SB 103, was passed later that year. The bills are identical except for their provisions for fines and other penalties. SB 103, sponsored by State Sen. Alan Lasee, R-De Pere, states that drivers committing the first offense will be fined between $100 and $400. The minimum fine for a second offense is $200, and drivers could pay up to $2,000 if they caused bodily injury because they were texting. In fact, drivers who harmed another while texting and driving could serve jail time.

Regional Legislation

Some Wisconsin cities are creating their own legislation regarding cell phone use. The city of Black Rock may prohibit cell phone use for all drivers, and Kenosha authorities banned text messaging for drivers back in 2008. Regional ordinances are also in effect. In Waupaca County, drivers were prohibited from using handheld wireless devices for texting or calls, but the legislation has not been widely enforced. Some law enforcement officers view the laws as a warning and a way to communicate the dangers of using cell phones while driving and feel that the legislation is enough of a deterrent.