Wisconsin bills intended to improve safety on roadways

| 4/13/2007

A bill in the Wisconsin Assembly would penalize drivers in the state who cause accidents while talking on hand-held cell phones. The measure is one of several highway safety-related bills under consideration in the Legislature.

The cell phone bill – AB38 – would help the state combat inattentive driving. Current Wisconsin law doesn’t prohibit drivers from using cell phones while at the wheel.

Sponsored by Rep. Carol Owens, R-Oshkosh, the bill would require traffic accident reports to designate whether a cell phone was being used by a driver at the time of a wreck. Violators would face $300 fines. If the wreck involved injury or death to another person, the fine would jump to between $5,000 and $10,000 and/or up to one year behind bars.

Owens said the bill would help to increase the attentiveness of drivers on congested roadways.

The cell-phone bill isn’t the only highway safety issue drawing consideration at the statehouse.

A bill offered by Rep. Sheldon Wasserman, D-Milwaukee, is intended to help families in the state deal with the problem of telling aging relatives that they should no longer be behind the wheel.

The bill – AB2 – would require people age 75 to 85 to take free vision tests or submit results from a doctor’s test every three years. Drivers over age 85 would be required to take vision and written knowledge tests every two years.

Existing state law allows for renewal of driver’s licenses every eight years.

Wasserman says it is a basic common-sense bill that would protect everyone on the road. Opponents say it is unfair to target older drivers, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

One other bill focuses on people who have a history of getting behind the wheel after too many drinks.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Troy Staskunas, D-West Allis, the bill – AB54 – would mandate long prison terms for the most severe repeat drunken drivers. Offenders with more than 10 convictions would face up to $25,000 fines and/or as much as 12-and-a-half years in prison.

Existing state law allows for up to $10,000 fines and/or up to six years in prison.

The bills are in committee. Other safety efforts that are expected to be introduced would bar young drivers from using cell phones while at the wheel and permit police to pull over drivers solely for not buckling up.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor