Wisconsin Text Messaging and Cell Phone Laws
Read about Wisconsin’s distracted driving laws.
Wisconsin prohibits “distracted driving” in general, but doesn’t have a blanket no-cellphones-while-driving rule. Only recently-licensed motorists are prohibited entirely from using a cellphone when driving. Most other drivers are allowed to talk on a cellphone while at the wheel. Texting while driving, however, is generally prohibited for all motorists.
Wisconsin’s distracted driving law bans driving while “engaged or occupied with an activity, other than driving the vehicle, that interferes or reasonably appears to interfere with the person’s ability to drive the vehicle safely.” (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 346.89(1) (2016).)
So it’s not just talking or texting on a cellphone that’s illegal: Lots of things motorists do while at the wheel can interfere with safe driving. How many times, for example, have you seen someone in traffic trying to read a newspaper or put on makeup? Wisconsin officers can cite drivers doing these kinds of things for distracted driving violations.
For most Wisconsin drivers, it’s legal to talk on a cellphone and drive. However, recently-licensed motorists—those with an instructional permit or a probationary license—can use cellphones only for emergency purposes. And commercial drivers are generally prohibited from using cellphones unless they use hands-free devices. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 346.89(4)(a), (4)(c)(2) (2016).)
Also, starting October 1, 2016, Wisconsin drivers will be required to use hands-free devices to talk on a cellphone when driving through areas where road construction, maintenance, or utility work is being done. (2015-2016 Wisc. Legis. Serv. Act 308 (2015 A.B. 198).)
For the most part, Wisconsin law bans text messaging and emailing when driving. The only exceptions are for:
- those operating emergency vehicles
- devices whose primary function is sending and receiving messages related to emergencies and operation of the vehicle
- accessories that are integrated into the electrical system of the car, like a global position system (GPS)
- licensed amateur radio operators, and
- hands-free or voice-operated devices.
(Wis. Stat. Ann. § 346.89(3)(b) (2016).)
Wisconsin's distractive driving law prohibits most drivers from “operat[ing] or be[ing] in a position to directly observe any electronic device located within the vehicle that is activated and that is providing entertainment primarily by visual means.” So, regardless of whether a driver is actually watching, it’s illegal to have a video playing on a screen that the driver is positioned to see. The video-screen restriction, however, doesn’t apply to commercial and tow-truck drivers. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 346.89(5) (2016).)
Penalties for Distracted Driving
Fines for distractive driving violations range from $20 to $400. For texting or doing something while driving that interferes with the person’s ability to drive safely, a judge can fine the driver anywhere from $20 to $400. For all other violations, the fine can range between $10 and $40 for a first violation and $50 to $100 for a second violation within a year. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 346.95 (2016).)