Previous laws of the month

April – Motorists and motorcyclists asked to be alert, safe

State Patrol’s April Law of the Month reminds motorcyclists to be properly licensed

The warmer spring weather means more motorcyclists will be seen along roadways and the Wisconsin State Patrol is asking all motorists to share the road, be alert and safe. The State Patrol’s April Law of the Month reminds motorcycle operators to be properly licensed.

“Too often, we see motorcycle drivers that are not properly licensed,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind. “Along with being illegal, it’s a safety concern because to get the required Class M license, they need to demonstrate they’re capable of safely operating a motorcycle.” A violation for operating a motorcycle without the proper license costs $200 along with three demerit points.

There are two ways motorcyclists can get their Class M license:

  • Pass a Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT)-administered motorcycle driving skills test at a Division of Motor Vehicles service center. Tests are conducted by appointment. Applicants must provide a motorcycle in good working order, wear eye protection and an approved helmet.
  • Successfully complete a WisDOT-approved rider education course. For a nominal fee, professional instructors guide riders through classroom and on-the-bike instruction. Students that successfully complete an approved education course can obtain a waiver for the skills test to obtain their Class M license.

“Taking a rider safety course is a great option for getting a Class M license,” Superintendent J.D. Lind said. “Along with courses for beginning motorcyclists, there are also refresher courses for more experienced riders. What you learn could easily help you avoid being involved in a crash.”

March – State Patrol: Be certain to safely secure trailers and loads

Whether you’re pulling a boat, a camping trailer or any type of towed equipment, make sure it’s safely attached to your vehicle and that trailer tires, axles and lights are in proper working condition. The Wisconsin State Patrol Law of the Month for March also reminds drivers to ensure that any load in a trailer or truck bed is properly secured to prevent items from jarring loose and becoming hazardous obstacles on roadways.

“For towed equipment, state law requires that the ball and hitch coupling assembly be the same size and latch securely. The latching mechanism must be able to prevent disengagement of the trailer while the vehicle is in operation,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind. “Also, two safety chains of proper length and strength must be attached between the vehicle and the trailer with just enough slack to allow proper turning. It’s also 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.”

Failure to properly secure a trailer (Wisconsin law 347.47) can result in a $200 citation with two demerit points added to a driver’s license. More info regarding safety chains, cables and leveling bars can be found in Wisconsin Transportation Administrative Code 308.12.

Wisconsin law also provides for a $200 citation for “failure to properly secure a load” (348.10) or for “spilling a load or waste along a highway” (346.94). “Items that bounce out of trailers or away from trucks such as coolers, chairs, lumber or ladders become dangerous obstacles that can damage other vehicles or result in crashes when drivers swerve suddenly to avoid roadway debris,” Superintendent J.D. Lind said. “Covering a load is not required by law, but having a cover over a truck bed or trailer will help ensure that any load is properly secured and contained.”

February – Wisconsin State Patrol February Law of the Month focuses on safe winter travel

Winter travel in Wisconsin can be challenging and stressful at times, but following some basic guidelines will help ensure you reach your destination safely and enhance safety for all travelers. The State Patrol Law of the Month for February highlights state laws and travel tips pertaining to safe winter travel.

“During severe winter storms, the best advice is to simply stay off the roads if possible and wait for conditions to improve,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent J.D. Lind. “If you must travel, allow extra time and following distance, make sure everyone in the vehicle is buckled up, then go slow.”

The most common cause of winter crashes and slide-offs is drivers traveling too fast for conditions. State law (346.57) requires drivers to operate at speeds that are “reasonable and prudent” to maintain safe control of a motor vehicle at all times. A violation for traveling too fast for conditions can result in a fine of $213. Other safe winter travel tips:

  • Before heading out, let others know about your planned route and expected arrival time. Fully charge your cell phone. It may be needed if you become stranded or involved in a crash.
  • Clear snow and ice from your vehicle’s roof, hood, windows, front and rear lights. Turning on your vehicle’s low-beam headlights helps you see what’s ahead, and helps others see you. State law (340.01 (23)) requires drivers to turn on their vehicle’s low-beam headlights any time that weather or other conditions limit visibility to 500 feet or less. 
  • Don’t use cruise control. Avoid sudden braking or steering. If you have a four-wheel or all-wheel-drive vehicle, don’t be overconfident. All vehicles require additional time and distance to stop in slippery conditions.

“If your vehicle breaks down, or you slide off the road, it’s generally safest to stay buckled up inside your vehicle and wait for help,” Superintendent J.D. Lind said. “Getting out of your vehicle and walking around a highway is always dangerous, but especially when roads are slippery.”

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s website provides more tips on safe winter driving, things to consider should you become stranded, keeping your vehicle properly maintained, and how to prepare an emergency winter travel kit.

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