Young drivers ban on cell phone use advances in Wisconsin

| 1/6/2006

The Wisconsin Assembly has overwhelmingly approved a bill intended to cut cell-phone use by young drivers.

Sponsored by Rep. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, the measure would permit police to pull over newly licensed drivers for chatting on cell phones.

The bill would prohibit drivers under age 18 from talking on cell phones while behind the wheel when they have an instruction permit or are within the first nine months of holding a probationary license. It would exempt emergency phone calls.

Assembly lawmakers voted 89-6 to advance the measure that would impose a $50 fine for teens chatting on the phone while driving. Repeat offenders would face up to a $100 fine.

Petrowski told The Associated Press the cell-phone provision would be added to other restrictions under Wisconsin’s graduated driver’s license program. Existing rules prohibit probationary license holders under age 18 from driving unsupervised between midnight and 5 a.m. and transporting more than one passenger in the vehicle under age 18 unless they are relatives.

The bill – AB120 – now heads to the state’s Senate for further consideration.

The effort comes on the heels of a National Transportation Safety Board report that recommended novice drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while on the road.

The safety board says that young drivers account for only 7 percent of the driving population but are involved in 15 percent of fatal accidents. Distracted drivers take 1.5 seconds longer to respond to hazards, the agency says.

“Learning how to drive and getting comfortable in traffic requires all the concentration a novice driver can muster,” NTSB Chairwoman Ellen Engleman said in a recent statement. “Adding a distracting element like a cell phone is placing too many demands on a young driver’s skills.”

Currently, nine states forbid young drivers to use phones while behind the wheel. Only Connecticut, New York and New Jersey have bans on all drivers from using hand-held phones.

Gov. Jim Doyle’s office said he likely would sign the bill if gets to his desk.