Proposed Assembly Bill Could Impose Harsher Penalties for Texting and Driving
Wisconsin roadways could get a little safer, thanks to new legislation that seeks to expand the current texting while driving laws in the state. The existing inattentive driving statute prohibits drivers from composing or sending an electronic text message while operating a motor vehicle. The only exception to the law are the use of hands free devices. In addition, individuals operating emergency vehicles are also exempt from the law.
The proposed bill goes far beyond the current limitations. In addition to prohibiting the act of texting while driving, “physically manipulating an interactive device to enter, transmit, or access data while driving” is also in violation of the law. Proponents of the bill believe the need for tougher legislation is threefold. They feel that distracted driving caused by the use of data devices is a considerable issue. Additionally, because data technology is constantly changing, Wisconsin laws need to reflect this pace. Finally, lawmakers believe that the current inattentive driving legislation is not in line with states that neighbor Wisconsin.
The bill, which was introduced in August 2017, would invoke much tougher penalties if a driver is found in violation. Fines under the current law range from $20 – $400. If the use of a data device results in an accident that causes death (homicide but negligent operation of a vehicle), the guilty party faces a Class G Felony which comes with a fine of up to $25,000 and up to six years in prison.
The proposed law would increase the minimum fine to $100. If the behavior results in the death of another individual, the guilty party will still face a Class G Felony and a fine of up to $25,000, with potential prison time ranging from 6 to 10 years.
The aim of the legislation is to stop drivers from utilizing smartphone apps such as Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat or using the device to take photographs while they are operating their vehicle. Drivers will still be allowed to use electronic devices for navigation purposes as well as verbal communication. Additionally, the device could be used to report an emergency or in a hands-free mode.
The Assembly Bill is currently with the committee on rules with hopes of seeing a vote some time in 2018.