Distracted Driving in Wisconsin

Educating Wisconsin Drivers about Risks of Distracted Driving

Distracted driving of any form is inattentive and irresponsible driving.  Distracted driving accidents are under-reported and hard to prove, but there is evidence to suggest that the problem is on a steady incline. It is estimated that 4 of the 11 million crashes that occur in the U.S. every year could be prevented if no distraction was present.  As personal injury attorneys, we have seen the devastation caused by distracted driver accidents in Wisconsin.  It is our mission to join in on the crusade that has brought together business, schools, agencies, advocacy groups, our government, and other organizations.  We are building on the existing momentum to educate the public about the risks of distracted driving; a combined effort to encourage change.  In order for us to stop another distracted driving accident in Wisconsin, we must be aware of the facts, causes, devastating consequences, and pledge to make a change. We’re asking parents and young adults to be safe driving role models.  We’re asking teens to stop friends from partaking in distracting driving behavior before it’s too late.


Reported accidents and fatalities associated with distracted driving are on the rise.  Recent data from The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has shown a significant increase in auto accidents and auto related fatalities over the past several years.  Although it is difficult to determine how many of those events can be contributed to distracted driving, officials and experts agree that smartphone distractions are a contribution factor.  The increased popularity of use and variety of electronic devices, (primarily smartphones), coupled with the increasing number of accidents and fatalities can’t be merely coincidence.

Presumed Relation to Distracted Driving Increase In Wisconsin

Responding To The Distracted Driving Crisis

Distracted driving can easily lead to an accident. Teens are especially susceptible to distractions that interfere with the task of driving.  For teens, distracted driving is a leading cause of accidents, injuries, and auto-related fatalities.

Teen Support: When questioned, most teens do not feel that they are experienced drivers.  However, they attempt to multi-task while driving because they are easily distracted.  This is why messages like “friends don’t let friends” text and drive are so important.  Teens can help other teens by supporting each other and stopping dangerous behavior.  High schools can help by bringing in people to speak on the topic.  Utilizing distracted driving applications, or just turning the phone off before putting the car in drive are good habits to get into. Most importantly, kids need good driving role models starting from a young age, especially from parents and older siblings.

The IIHS (2009) calculated that drivers operating just a cell phone are four times more likely to crash. Even so, it’s not uncommon to see drivers attempting multiple distracting behaviors at the same time.  Other drivers observe your texting and driving, applying makeup, or participating in other distracting behaviors. These people could serve as good witnesses if you cause a wreck.

Shout Out to Experienced Drivers:  When adults are questioned, they feel their experience as a driver provides the ability to multi-task better than others.  This is far from the truth.  According to NHTSA, taking your eyes off the road for just 5 seconds traveling  55mph, is enough time to cover the length of a football field.  No matter how experienced of a driver you are, one second is enough time to have a major wreck.  It is time for adults to be real about the dangers of distracted driving, and aware of the impression they are leaving to future drivers as well.  Young passengers are watching your bad behaviors and so are the vehicles who share the road with you.

Each year in Wisconsin people lose their lives due to distracted driving.  It’s not just car accidents  either; accidents are more often involving passengers, other drivers, bicyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians.  When we witness a moving vehicle swerving off the road or across the lane, it’s not just assumed that it’s a drunk driver anymore.  Drunk drivers and distracted or inattentive drivers display some of the same warning signs and cause the same deadly crashes.

Changing the Way Drivers Think:  For example, distracted driving, especially texting and driving, is proven to be as dangerous as drunk driving.  For example, in 2015, there were 11,000 persons injured from distracted driving accidents and 2,900 injured from drunk driving accidents.  Some argue that as distracted driving is proven and documented more, it will also surpass the number of fatal crashes caused by drunk drivers.  Why not have a “designated driver” for someone who needs to make phone calls, send texts, or has a need to do any of the other distracted driving tasks? We must keep the conversation going, and change the way Wisconsin views distracted driving.
Distracted driving has been more challenging to prove.  However, with access to cameras, GPS data, witness statements, and cell phone records, that problem is improving. Nearly all states, including Wisconsin, have enacted laws against texting while driving.  A growing number of states prohibit drivers from using hand-held mobile phones while driving.

State Distracted Driving Laws:  Recent laws in Wisconsin have responded to the states distracted driving crisis.  Texting and driving laws in Wisconsin are primary enforcement which means that a driver can be pulled over and ticketed for this alone.  Current penalties for texting and driving offenses in Wisconsin range from $20 to $400 and demerit points depending upon the type of license.  Currently, Wisconsin only has hand-held mobile phone limitations that apply to novice drivers, or drivers passing through work zones.  More harsh legislation is needed in our state for the use of cell phones.  Laws may not change behaviors, but will certainly increase the incentives to do so.  As distracted driving accidents continue to increase, we may see more strict laws and penalties across all states.

With any decision in life one must ask, “is the worst-case outcome worth taking the risk?”  If you make the choice to drive distracted, and cause an accident, statistics have shown that those kinds of decisions often result in injuries or death to yourself or others.  In the minimum, you would pay a fine and lose demerit points.  You could also go to jail, or get sued, depending upon the type of license you had, and the type of accident that you are involved in.

Holding Distracted Drivers Liable:  A distracted driver who is caught texting and driving, or using a hand-held phone while driving through a construction zone has penalties in Wisconsin.  For novice drivers, those penalties are more severe.  If your distracted driving puts others in danger, you could face charges. Any negligent or reckless driver who causes harm or injury to another person will be held accountable.  Wisconsin has a “fault” system for auto insurance that holds drivers accountable for the accidents they cause, including distracted driving accidents.  When a person is injured as a result of someones distracted driving behavior, the victim has several options for pursuing compensation, including a personal injury claim.
Coming together to raise awareness; providing consistent reminders and support are all important elements necessary towards solving this national and state-wide crisis.

Raising Awareness:  Drivers have good intentions.  Nobody will say that they want to be involved in an accident, yet the destructive habits drivers are participating in are putting us all at risk.  This is why raising awareness and constant reminders are so important.  There are many resources referenced at the bottom of this page with excellent material to view.  Many non-profits, businesses, educators, families and government agencies are coming together to save lives.  April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month.  Learn more about the movement. Share the #JustDrive #BeSafeWI  #InjuredTakeAction messages. Together we can make a difference.  Keep the conversation going!
Take the pledge to drive phone-free by clicking on the photo shown below provided by The National Safety Council.

*Data within article updated to date of this posting and will be routinely updated as information becomes available.     

Sources:  NHTSA Distraction.Gov, Dept of Transportation Website for Distracted Driving, WI Dept of Motor Vehicles, DMV Org, Ntl Safety Council, IIHS, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Admin, AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Ntl Transportation Safety Board, Ntl Traffic Law Center, WI DOT,  Governors Hwy Safety Assoc Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, DrivingLaws.Org, Ntl District Attorney’s Assoc, Ntl Safety Council

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