Wisconsin's Distracted Driving (Texting and Phones) Laws and Penalties

Read about Wisconsin’s distracted driving laws.

Wisconsin prohibits "distracted driving" in general but doesn't have a blanket rule prohibiting talking on a cell phone while driving. Only recently-licensed motorists are prohibited entirely from using a cell phone when driving. Texting while driving, however, is generally prohibited for all motorists.

This article covers the basics of Wisconsin's distracted driving laws and the penalties for a texting, cell phone, or distracted driving ticket.

Wisconsin's Distracted Driving Law

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.)

So it's not just talking or texting on a cell phone 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.

Wisconsin's Texting-While-Driving Law

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 the 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.

As you can imagine, most of these exceptions don't come up very often.

Talking on the Phone While Driving in Wisconsin

For most Wisconsin drivers, it's legal to talk on a cell phone while driving.

New drivers. However, recently licensed motorists—those with an instructional permit or a probationary license—can use cell phones only for emergency purposes.

Commercial drivers. Commercial drivers are generally prohibited from using cell phones unless they use hands-free devices.

Construction and road maintenance zones. Wisconsin drivers are required to use hands-free devices to talk on a cell phone when driving through areas where road construction, maintenance, or utility work is being done.

Wisconsin's Law Video Monitors in Vehicles

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.

Fines for Distracted Driving Tickets in Wisconsin

Fines for distractive driving violations range from $20 to $400. (Wis. Stat. Ann. § 346.95.)

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.

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