Previous laws of the month

    January – Wisconsin State Patrol January Law of the Month focuses on speed laws and limits

    Excessive speed is a common factor behind many traffic-related citations, crashes, injuries and deaths in Wisconsin. The State Patrol Law of the Month for January highlights state laws related to speeding (346.57) and reminds drivers that a speeding citation can cost you hundreds of dollars in fines and boost insurance rates. Worse yet, speeding can cost you or someone else their life.

    “Drivers who travel at excessive speeds endanger everyone along our roadways, which explains why law enforcement agencies across the state place a strong emphasis on enforcing speed-related laws,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind. “This is not about issuing citations. Our primary goal is to enhance safety for all travelers and prevent traffic crashes, injuries and deaths by getting drivers to slow down.”

    Last year in Wisconsin, there were about 175,000 traffic convictions for various speed-related violations. Important things for drivers to keep in mind:

    • Posted speed limits apply when travel conditions are ideal. State law requires drivers to adjust their speed to what is “reasonable and prudent” based on factors such as traffic levels and weather conditions like snow, fog or rain;
    • Traveling at an excessive speed greatly increases the chance of a driver losing control of their vehicle. Driving too fast for conditions is a primary factor behind many winter crashes and slide-offs;
    • Speeders have less time to react should traffic ahead slow down or stop. Along with watching their speed, drivers should always scan the road ahead for stopped emergency vehicles, traffic slow-downs, etc.

    “Too many motorists perceive speeding as a minor offense, but speeders are just as dangerous as impaired or distracted drivers,” Superintendent J.D. Lind said. “Almost every day, law enforcement officials see the tragic outcomes associated with excessive speed on our roadways. What’s truly tragic is such incidents are totally preventable.”

    December 2017 – Wisconsin State Patrol December Law of the Month focuses on safe, courteous freeway driving habits

    The approach of another holiday season means Interstates and other multi-lane highways will be busy. The Wisconsin State Patrol Law of the Month for December reminds freeway drivers that signs asking “Slower Traffic to Keep Right” provide more than just a suggestion – it’s the law. For example, Wisconsin law 346.59 prohibits drivers from traveling “at a speed so slow as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic.” Violations can result in a $175 citation.   

    “Our concern is drivers who monopolize the passing lane on freeways, because it greatly increases the potential for tailgating, crashes and road rage incidents,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind. “When motorists linger in the passing lane for any reason - such as an ill-advised attempt to slow down traffic - they’re making an illegal and potentially dangerous decision. Unless you need to legally pass another vehicle, it’s best to remain in the right lane and let law enforcement deal with potential speeders.” Other laws and safety issues impacting freeway travelers:

    • Move over a lane if possible or slow down when approaching a stopped law enforcement vehicle, ambulance, fire truck, tow truck, highway maintenance or utility vehicle that has its warning lights flashing. The goal of the state’s Move Over Law (346.072) is to provide a “safety zone” for roadside workers. Violations can result in a $263 fine.

    • Median crossovers are for authorized vehicles only - using them to turn around is dangerous and illegal. When a vehicle slows to turn onto a crossover, it can result in serious rear-end crashes or cause other drivers to take evasive action. The only safe and legal option to turn around on a freeway is to proceed to the next interchange and use the off/on ramps. Illegally crossing a divided highway (346.15) can also result in a fine of up to $263.

    • As a matter of public safety and courtesy, freeway drivers should try to accommodate traffic merging from a ramp. While merging vehicles are required to yield, freeway drivers are encouraged to shift over a lane if possible or adjust their speed slightly to accommodate merging traffic.

    “We want everyone to have a safe, enjoyable holiday season,” Superintendent J.D. Lind said. “That requires all motorists to buckle-up, obey traffic laws, and be patient and alert.”

    November 2017 – Guidelines to Follow when Stopped by Law Enforcement

    Getting pulled over by a law enforcement officer can be a difficult experience, but following some simple guidelines will greatly enhance safety for motorists and law enforcement. The Wisconsin State Patrol’s November Law of the Month reminds motorists of their legal responsibilities and offers guidelines on what to do when stopped by law enforcement.

    State law (346.19) requires drivers to pull over immediately when they observe emergency lights approaching from either direction. Move out of the lane of traffic and stop as near as possible on the right-hand shoulder of the roadway.

    “When pulled over by a police officer, the first thing drivers and passengers should do is try to stay calm,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind. “Keep in mind that the top priority for law enforcement is the safety and well-being of the travelling public. Police officers are well-trained in handling traffic stops, but there are several things motorists can do to help things go as smoothly as possible.” This includes:

    • Place your vehicle in park. Turn off the ignition and put the keys on the dashboard in front of you.
    • Do not exit the vehicle (unless asked to do so). At night or during low-light conditions, turn on your vehicle’s interior dome light. The officer will likely shine a bright light into your vehicle. This is to keep you and the officer safe
    • Place your hands in plain sight, preferably on top of the steering wheel. All vehicle occupants should keep movements to a minimum. Refrain from reaching into your clothing, purse, glove box, console, etc. to locate your license, registration or insurance cards. Wait for the officer to request such items.
    • When the officer arrives at your window (this could be the driver or passenger side), comply with any orders. Provide clear and concise answers to the officer’s questions.
    • Be polite and patient. The officer may need time to verify your identification, etc. If you are given a citation, don’t argue. You will have an opportunity before a judge or court to express any concerns.

    “Following these steps will help keep everyone safe, and in most cases, will get you back on your journey as quickly as possible,” Superintendent J.D. Lind said.

    October 2017 – Wisconsin State Patrol: front and rear license plates required on most vehicles

    For most Wisconsin car or truck owners, state law (341.15) is clear: if you’re issued two license plates for your vehicle, you are required to display both – one on the rear of your vehicle and the other on the front. The Wisconsin State Patrol’s October Law of the Month also notes that license plates must be firmly attached and maintained in a readable condition.

    “Properly displayed license plates help the public and law enforcement identify vehicles that are wanted in association with criminal activity or that are reported as operating erratically,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind. “Displaying front and rear plates also makes it easier to locate vehicles of people who may need assistance or vehicles named in Amber or Silver alerts.”

    In some states, only one vehicle plate is required. If you purchase a vehicle in one of those states, Wisconsin vehicle owners are still required to properly display both front and rear license plates - even if that requires installation of a mounting bracket. The fine for improper or failure to display license plates is $150.

    Being visible along highways also requires proper use of headlights. Under state law, drivers must use headlights during hours of darkness - defined as the period from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise. State law also requires headlight use when weather conditions such as rain, snow or fog limit visibility to 500 feet or less. When in doubt, law enforcement officials simply suggest clicking on your vehicle’s low beam headlights.

    “This time of year, when fog is common and as the hours of daylight decrease, it’s important for drivers to use their headlights so they can see what’s ahead, and so other drivers can see you,” Superintendent J.D. Lind said.

    September 2017 –  Start of another school year requires drivers to watch for buses/students

    Wisconsin State Patrol highlights laws related to school buses, pedestrians and bicyclists

    As another school year gets underway across Wisconsin, drivers are asked to keep a sharp eye out for students and school buses. The State Patrol’s September Law of the Month details state laws designed to protect students as they head to and from school activities.

    “Children aren’t always thinking about their own safety, so drivers need to be alert and cautious at all times,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind. “This includes being ready to stop when school buses load and unload passengers, and to watch for children who are walking or biking.”

    School bus laws

    Wisconsin law requires drivers to stop at least 20 feet from a stopped school bus that has its red warning lights flashing. The law applies when approaching a school bus from either direction. The only exception is if you are traveling on the other side of a divided roadway separated by a median or other physical barrier.

    When passed illegally, school bus drivers are authorized to report violations to law enforcement. If a citation is issued, the vehicle owner can be held responsible, even if they weren’t the offending driver. A citation for failure to stop for a school bus costs $326.

    Under a year-old state law, Wisconsin school buses built after January 1, 2005 must also be fitted with amber lights. When flashing, the amber lights mean drivers should slow down because the red flashing lights will soon be activated and the bus is about to stop. Drivers can carefully pass a school bus with amber lights activated, but should never speed up to pass.

    Pedestrian laws

    State law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians:

    • Who have started crossing an intersection or crosswalk on a walk signal or on a green light if there is no walk signal;
    • Who are crossing the road within a marked or unmarked crosswalk at an intersection where there are no traffic lights or control signals; and
    • Whenever directed to stop by a school crossing guard. Like bus drivers, crossing guards have the authority to report violations to law enforcement.

    Depending on the specific violation, drivers who fail to yield the right of way to pedestrians that are legally crossing a roadway can receive a citation ranging from $175 to $326. 

    Bicycling laws

    When passing a bicyclist traveling in the same direction, motor vehicle operators must leave at least 3-feet of clearance and maintain this safety zone until safely past the bicycle. Violating state law that requires drivers to overtake and pass bicyclists safely can result in a $200 citation. 

    “Our goal is not simply to write citations, but to help motorists and other travelers understand and abide by the laws that are designed to protect us all,” Superintendent J.D. Lind said.

    August 2017 – Drug-impaired driving is dangerous and illegal

    State Patrol Law of the Month a reminder that driving under the influence of prescription medications or other drugs is just as dangerous and illegal as driving while impaired by alcohol

    Most everyone is familiar with the many dangers of driving drunk. What some people may not realize is that driving under the influence of prescription medications or other drugs is just as dangerous and illegal. The Wisconsin State Patrol’s August Law of the Month reminds motorists that driving while impaired by prescription medications or other drugs carries the same serious penalties and potential consequences as driving under the influence of alcohol.

    “Whether it’s caused by alcohol, prescribed medication or any other drug, impaired drivers are dangerous drivers who jeopardize the safety of everyone along our roadways,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind. “Law enforcement officers are well trained to identify and apprehend impaired drivers. But our goal is to deter drivers from making the irresponsible decision to get behind the wheel impaired where they could hurt or kill themselves or someone else.”

    Over the last decade in Wisconsin, drug-related traffic fatalities have increased from 77 deaths in 2007 to 118 in 2016. While law enforcement is on the lookout for impaired drivers year round, officers will patrol in greater numbers for longer hours during the annual “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” initiative from August 18 through Labor Day. Other key components of Wisconsin OWI laws:

    • Drivers can be arrested for OWI even if their blood-alcohol content is below the legal limit of 0.08 if it’s determined their level of impairment makes them unable to safely operate a motor vehicle;
    • Under Wisconsin’s “not a drop” law, drivers under age 21 are prohibited from having any detectable amount of alcohol in their system;
    • Drivers who refuse a blood/breath alcohol test will lose their license for at least one year and may have their vehicle impounded;
    • State law calls for installation of ignition interlock devices on all vehicles owned by anyone convicted of first offense OWI with an alcohol content of 0.15 or higher as well as second or subsequent OWI offenses;
    • Penalties double for impaired drivers who have passengers under age 16 in their vehicle.

    More information about Wisconsin’s impaired driving laws, consequences and economic costs can be found on the WisDOT website.

    July 2017 – State law prohibits drivers from using hand-held cell phones in work zones

    With the state’s highway construction season reaching its peak, the Wisconsin State Patrol’s July Law of the Month reminds motorists that a recently-enacted state law prohibits drivers from using a hand-held mobile device in a Wisconsin work zone. Violators face fines of up to $40 for a first offense and up to $100 for subsequent offenses. There is an exception to report an emergency.

    “While distracted driving comes in many forms, one thing they all have in common is they’re dangerous,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind.  “Drivers need to stay focused on the road at all times and that’s why we strongly encourage people to put away their cell phone any time they’re behind the wheel. Work zones are especially challenging as motorists often encounter narrow lanes, reduced speeds, construction workers and equipment all operating in a relatively confined area.”

    Last year, there were over 2,800 crashes in Wisconsin work zones resulting in 1,110 injuries and nine deaths. While workers in construction zones are especially vulnerable, the majority of people injured and killed in work zone crashes are motorists.

    The state law banning use of hand-held electronic devices in work zones builds on other efforts to discourage inattentive driving. State law prohibits new drivers with an instruction permit or probationary license from using a cell phone when driving (except to report an emergency). Another state law prohibits texting while driving for all motorists. Federal law makes it illegal for commercial motor vehicle drivers from using hand-held cell phones when behind the wheel.

    June 2017 – Safety devices required when towing trailers

    Before you hit the road for a fishing or camping trip this summer, make sure that your boat, camper, trailer or other piece of towed equipment is securely fastened to your vehicle.

    “For safe towing on roadways, state law requires that the ball and hitch coupling assembly must be the same size and must latch securely. The latching mechanism also must be able to prevent disengagement of the trailer while the vehicle is in operation,” says Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind. “Two safety chains of proper length and strength must be attached between the vehicle and the trailer. The slack on each length of chain must not be more than is necessary to permit proper turning. In addition, it’s a good idea to crisscross the safety chains to create a cradle that can catch the tongue of the trailer and prevent it from striking the pavement if an unexpected disconnection occurs.”

    “A violation of the state law regarding properly securing trailers costs $200.50 with two demerit points added to a driver’s license.”

    The State Patrol also offers some simple and practical advice for safe towing. Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind says, “Before you begin a trip with your boat, camper or trailer, check to see if it is loaded properly and its contents are secured. A shifting load on a trailer can cause it to sway unexpectedly. Test the trailer brake lights. You also should check the axles and tires. Many trailers sit for long periods of time, and we see crashes caused by wheel bearing failure or blown tires. You should carry a spare tire because specialty tires for trailers may be hard to find when you’re far from home or it’s the middle of the night.”

    May 2017 – After a crash, motorists advised to move their vehicles out of traffic if possible 

    Any traffic crash—even a minor fender-bender—can be nerve wracking and chaotic for everyone involved. However, motorists involved in a crash need to maintain their composure and take steps for their own safety and the safety of others on the road.

    After a crash, the first step is to check for injuries and call 911 if medical assistance is needed. If no one has been injured, motorists need to follow the steps contained in the “Steer It, Clear It Law.”

    The “Steer It, Clear It Law” requires motorists involved in crashes to move their vehicle to a safe location away from traffic if no one is injured and it can be driven. The vehicles should be moved to a location, such as a highway shoulder, a side road, an on or off ramp, a parking lot or a crash investigation site where they will obstruct traffic as little as possible. Once the vehicle is moved to a safe location, drivers can contact law enforcement and exchange information. The Steer it, Clear It Law also grants immunity from civil damages to any person who removes a crashed vehicle from traffic as well as debris in the roadway or other obstruction.

    “Vehicles involved in crashes that are left in the roadway contribute to traffic back-ups that may cause additional crashes,” says Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind. “Moving the vehicles away from traffic also helps law enforcement officers and other responders to quickly remove disabled vehicles and clear the crash scene so that normal traffic can resume.”

    The State Patrol offers the following additional advice for motorists involved in a crash:

    • If your vehicle is disabled, do not risk injury by trying to push it out of traffic by yourself.
    • If your vehicle cannot be moved, stay inside with your seat belt fastened for protection until responders arrive.
    • To help prevent additional crashes, warn oncoming traffic of the crash by turning on your hazard lights or raising the hood of the vehicle

    April 2017 – Roundabout safety: Yielding to large vehicles 

    To improve traffic safety, drivers must yield the right of way at roundabouts to trucks and other large vehicles that are at least 40 feet long or 10 feet wide, according to a state law enacted in 2016.

    Because commercial trucks and other large vehicles (including many buses, fire trucks, farm implements, and recreational vehicles that are towing boats or cars), have an expanded turning radius, they need ample room to travel through roundabouts. To help traffic flow smoothly and safely through roundabouts, state law has the following provisions:

    • Drivers must yield the right of way by providing adequate space to large vehicles that are at least 40-feet long or 10-feet wide when approaching  or driving through a roundabout at approximately the same time or when close to a large vehicle.
    • If necessary, large vehicles are allowed to deviate from their lane or occupy two lanes within a roundabout.
    • If two large vehicles approach a roundabout at the same time, the vehicle on the right must yield to the vehicle on the left.

    "It’s important to remember that when approaching a roundabout, all drivers regardless of the size of their vehicle must yield to traffic already within the roundabout," says Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind.

    A citation for failure to properly yield the right of way in roundabouts costs $175.30 with four demerit points added to the driver’s record. A second or subsequent offense within a year costs $213.10 with an additional four points.

    "Roundabouts are designed to reduce serious crashes and keep traffic moving efficiently," , says Superintendent Lind. "By being patient, courteous and cautious, drivers can help all vehicles, large and small, safely travel through roundabouts"

    The State Patrol also reminds drivers of the following rules for traffic safety in roundabouts:

    • Slow down
    • Obey traffic signs
    • Move into the correct lane for the direction you need to travel as you approach the roundabout.
    • Yield to pedestrians and bicyclists as you enter and exit a roundabout.
    • Stay in your lane within the roundabout—don’t change lanes.
    • Exit the roundabout carefully. Use your right-turn signal in front of the splitter island to indicate your intention to exit.

    More info. and videos about roundabout safety

    As motorcyclists get their bikes and protective gear ready for the upcoming riding season, they also need to make sure they are ready to ride legally.

    “Having a regular Class D license allows you to drive a car or light truck. However, you also need a motorcycle endorsement on your Class D license to legally operate a motorcycle in Wisconsin,” says Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind.  

    A violation for operating a motorcycle without the proper endorsement costs $200.50 along with three demerit points.

    To obtain a motorcycle endorsement on your driver license, you must demonstrate competency in operating a motorcycle. This can be done in two ways:

    • Passing a Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) administered motorcycle driving skills test. For the WisDOT driving skills test, the applicant must provide a motorcycle in good working order and wear eye protection and an approved helmet. Skills tests are conducted by appointment at DMV service centers located throughout the state.
    • Obtaining a waiver for the skills test by successfully completing a WisDOT approved Basic Motorcycle RiderCourse, 3-Wheel Basic RiderCourse, or the Basic RiderCourse2 (for experienced riders). View safety course information.

    “Riding a motorcycle is an exhilarating experience. But it also takes more physical skill and mental concentration than driving a typical car or light truck,” Superintendent Lind says. “To protect themselves and others on the road this riding season, we urge motorcyclists to get a motorcycle endorsement on their driver license if they don’t already have one.”

    February 2017 – Driving too fast for conditions causes many wintertime crashes

    Vehicles in a ditch along a highway or stuck in a snow bank on the side of a street are a familiar sight during winter. Although drivers often blame slippery roads for losing control of their vehicles, frequently the truth is that they were driving too fast for conditions.

    “Driving at the posted speed limit often will be too fast for conditions when there’s ice, snow and slick spots on roadways or when visibility is reduced by snow, sleet and fog,“ says Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind. “The speed limit is set for safe driving on dry pavement with good visibility. You might not be able to stop or control your vehicle at the posted speed limit on a slippery road or during hazardous weather.”

    Slowing down when driving conditions are treacherous is not just common sense—it’s the law. It is illegal to drive at speeds that exceed what is reasonable and prudent under existing road conditions. Drivers are required to adjust their speeds to take into account both the actual and potential hazards due to weather, highway conditions or other traffic. 

    A violation of this state law costs $213.10 with four demerit points added to the driver’s record. A second offense within a 12-month period costs $263.50 along with four points.

    “The slogan ‘Snow Means Slow’ also applies to four-wheel drive and other heavy-duty vehicles, which can still slide, skid and fish tail while trying to slow down or stop on slippery roads,” says Superintendent Lind. “If you drive too fast for conditions and slide off the road or crash, you likely will have to pay for an expensive traffic ticket plus towing and vehicle repair bills. It’s much cheaper, safer and certainly less frightening to maintain control of your vehicle by slowing down.”

    January 2017 – Move Over Law: Drivers must provide a safety zone for stopped law enforcement and other emergency vehicles

    A Wisconsin State Patrol trooper was fortunate to sustain only minor injuries when his cruiser, which was stopped on the side of a highway with its emergency lights activated, was hit in the rear by a vehicle in December. The trooper reported, “I sustained minor injuries but will live to serve another day without permanent or life-altering effects. Other troopers have not been so lucky, losing limbs or their lives.”

    To provide a safety zone for law enforcement officers and other workers on the side of roadways, drivers must comply with Wisconsin’s Move Over Law.

    “Drivers are required to shift lanes if possible or at least slow down when encountering a law enforcement vehicle, ambulance, fire truck, tow truck, highway maintenance vehicle or utility vehicle that is stopped on the side of a road with its warning lights flashing. On interstate highways and other divided roads with multiple directional lanes, you must move over to vacate the lane closest to the emergency vehicle if you can safely switch lanes,” says State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind. “If the road has a single directional lane or you can’t safely move over because of traffic, you must reduce your speed until safely past the vehicle.”

    A citation for a Move Over Law violation costs $263.50 with three demerit points added to your driver’s license.

    “During winter months, law enforcement officers, tow truck operators and others frequently must respond to crashes and assist motorists whose vehicles have slid off icy roads. Officers and other workers are in danger of being hit while inside or outside their vehicles by out-of-control or speeding vehicles that did not move over,” Superintendent Lind says. “Drivers have a legal and moral responsibility to help protect those who must work on the side of busy roads. By obeying the Move Over Law, drivers can protect themselves, their passengers, our officers and others who work on highways from serious injuries and deaths.”