Youngest Wisconsin drivers still allowed to use cell phones

| 5/22/2006

A bill in the Wisconsin Legislature that was intended to cut cell phone use by young drivers has died.

Sponsored by Rep. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, the measure – AB120 – remained in the Senate Natural Resources and Transportation Committee when the session ended this month. The Assembly approved it in December.

The bill would have prohibited 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 have exempted emergency phone calls.

Teens chatting on the phone while driving would have faced a $50 fine. Repeat offenders would have faced up to a $100 fine.

The cell phone provision would have been 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 effort advanced through the Assembly about the same time a National Transportation Safety Board report recommended novice drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while on the road.

The safety board said 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 said.

Currently, about 10 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.

The effort in Wisconsin could be reintroduced in the legislative session that begins in January 2007.