Previous laws of the month

October - Harvest season requires drivers and farm vehicle operators to be safe, patient, and alert

With another fall harvest season underway, the Wisconsin State Patrol is reminding motorists and farm vehicle operators to be safe, patient, and share the road.

“This is an especially busy time of year for farmers, requiring motorists to be extra alert, patient and be very cautious when legally passing a farm vehicle,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Anthony Burrell. “Ag vehicle operators have several responsibilities as well and must use appropriate lights, signage and signals, and comply with weight restrictions.”

Over the last decade (2009 – 2018) in Wisconsin, there were a total of 1,707 traffic crashes involving agricultural equipment resulting in 32 fatalities and 874 injuries. General safety tips for motorists and farm vehicle operators:

Motorist responsibilities:

  • Scan the road ahead and be ready to slow down when you see slow-moving farm vehicles.
  • Be patient and very cautious if you decide to pass. In Wisconsin, it is illegal to pass an ag vehicle or “implement of husbandry” in a no passing zone.
  • When passing, consider the possibility of the farmer turning left onto a roadway, driveway or field entrance.

Ag vehicle operator responsibilities:

  • Know the lighting and marking requirements for ag vehicles. These requirements draw attention to the unique size, shape and speed of ag vehicles and alert motorists that caution is required. When traveling on a roadway, stay as far to the right as safely possible.
  • Be familiar with road weight restrictions. DATCP provides a statewide map with information about weight limits. More information about related permits, exemption and weight limits can be found on the WisDOT website.

September - As another school year gets underway, drivers asked to watch for buses/students

As students across Wisconsin head back to school, motorists are being reminded to keep a sharp eye out for students, school buses and crossing guards. The State Patrol’s September Law of the Month details state laws designed to protect students as they head to and from school activities.

Many Wisconsin school buses are now fitted with amber lights. When flashing, the amber lights tell drivers to 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 do so cautiously.

Wisconsin law (346.48) 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. A citation for failure to stop for a school bus costs $326 and four demerit points. Last year in Wisconsin, there were 1,016 traffic convictions for failure to stop for a school bus.

“Passing a stopped school bus that has its red lights flashing is illegal and very dangerous,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Anthony Burrell. “Children are easily distracted and don’t always think about their own safety, so drivers need to be extra alert.”

State law also requires drivers to yield when directed to stop by a school crossing guard (346.46 (2m)). Like bus drivers, crossing guards have the authority to report violations to law enforcement.

School buses are among the safest vehicles on the roadways due to their design, construction and because of careful bus drivers. The Wisconsin State Patrol inspects every Wisconsin school bus annually, conducting about 12,000 inspections each year. Inspectors look at mechanical equipment like steering, brakes and lights along with emergency equipment such as first aid kits and fire extinguishers.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation and its Division of State Patrol have produced a podcast on this topic providing additional information about school bus laws and inspections (https://wisdot.libsyn.com/).

June - State Patrol reminds motorists to properly secure trailers and cargo

It’s that time of year when many travelers are pulling boats, campers and hauling a variety of items along highways. As part of the June Law of the Month, the Wisconsin State Patrol reminds motorists to ensure that trailers are in good mechanical condition, safely attached to the vehicle, and that anything loaded into a trailer or truck bed is properly secured.

“We regularly see problems with trailers that break down or break loose, and items jarred loose from boats, trailers or truck beds that create hazards along our roadways,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Anthony Burrell. “To avoid a potentially dangerous situation, make sure before you leave home that everything is properly attached and secured.”

Things to keep in mind when towing campers or trailers:

  • Make sure that trailer tires, axles and lights are in proper working condition.

  • For towed equipment, ensure that the ball and hitch coupling assembly are the same size and latch securely. The latching mechanism must be able to prevent disengagement of the trailer while the vehicle is in operation.

  • Two safety chains of proper length and strength must be attached between the vehicle and the trailer with enough slack to allow proper turning.

  • It’s a good idea to crisscross the safety chains. This creates 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 (state 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. State law 348.08 details various requirements related to vehicle trains. 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 such as coolers, chairs, lumber or fishing equipment that bounce out of trailers or truck beds become dangerous obstacles that can damage other vehicles or result in crashes when drivers swerve suddenly to avoid roadway debris,” Superintendent Burrell 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.”

May - State Patrol reminds motorists to look twice, share the road with motorcycles

May is national “Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month” and the Wisconsin State Patrol is asking motorcyclists and all other motorists to share the road, be alert and safe.

“Motorcycle crashes often occur when a car or truck driver changes lanes, turns left or pulls out in front of a motorcycle,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Tony Burrell. “Because of their smaller profile, it’s easy to misjudge a motorcycle’s speed and distance. That’s why we’re reminding motorists to always look twice at approaching motorcycles.”

Failure to yield the right of way to another vehicle (state law 346.18) can result in a $175 citation, but penalties are much more severe if the violation results in someone getting injured or killed. In 2018 in Wisconsin, there were 2,074 motorcycle crashes, 1,678 motorcyclists injured and 81 motorcycle fatalities.

Motorcyclists can do their part by getting properly licensed, wearing visible and protective equipment, and carefully scanning ahead for potential hazards such as gravel, debris or wildlife in the roadway. As a group, motorcyclists are aging. The average age of a motorcyclist involved in a fatal crash in 1992 was 30 – in 2018, it was 46. 

Motorcyclists have two options to get the required Class M license: pass a motorcycle driving skills test after making an appointment at a Division of Motor Vehicles service center or successfully complete a WisDOT-approved rider education course. Motorcyclists who successfully complete an approved safety course earn a skills test waiver used to obtain their Class M license.

“Whether a person is brand new to motorcycling or a returning rider, a safety course is a wise investment,” Superintendent Tony Burrell said. “Safety along our roadways requires all motor vehicle operators to share the road, watch their speed, eliminate distractions and be alert.”

April - As road construction season begins, State Patrol reminds motorists to be especially cautious in highway work zones

With another road construction season getting underway, the Wisconsin State Patrol is asking motorists to be especially cautious when approaching and traveling through highway work zones. Work zone hazards often include narrow and shifted lanes, uneven pavements, construction workers and equipment all operating in a confined area.

“Rear-end crashes occur far too often in work zones, usually because drivers are going too fast and can’t react in time when traffic in front of them slows or stops,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Tony Burrell. “When drivers see orange signs and construction barrels, they need to slow down, set the phone aside and focus on what’s happening ahead of them.”

Last year, there were 3,157 crashes in Wisconsin work zones resulting in 1,274 injuries and nine deaths. While workers in construction zones are vulnerable - often a few feet or less away from moving traffic - most people injured and killed in work zone crashes are motorists.

To help protect motorists and workers, state law (346.89 4m) prohibits use of hand-held electronic devices in work zones. Violations can result in a $163 citation and assessment of four demerit points. Since the law first took effect in the fall of 2016, a total of 490 traffic convictions have been entered on Wisconsin driver records for violating the law. The State Patrol offers these work zone safety tips:

  • Buckle up, be alert, plan ahead. Leave early or map out an alternate route. Find the latest road conditions and work zone news at 511 Wisconsin;

  • Eliminate distractions like eating, talking on the phone, using GPS or other electronic devices;

  • Expect the unexpected. Speed limits may be reduced, traffic lanes may be shifted, and people and vehicles may be working on or near the road;

  • Give yourself extra room. Rear-end collisions are common in work zones, so don’t tailgate;

  • Be patient. If you don’t see workers, that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Be watchful for workers and signs throughout the work zone;

  • Follow the law. When you see stopped emergency vehicles that have their warning lights activated, move over if possible or slow down.

March - March Law of the Month reminds drivers to move over/slow down for emergency responders

It’s been a challenging winter for motorists across the state and with more winter weather likely, the Wisconsin State Patrol is asking drivers to slow down when travel conditions deteriorate, stay alert and be prepared to move over for stopped emergency responders.

“When roads get slippery, drivers need to slow down, scan the road ahead carefully, and be ready to shift over a lane if possible when approaching stopped emergency vehicles,” Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Tony Burrell said.

The state’s Move Over law (346.072) requires drivers to move out of the lane closest to stopped law enforcement vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, tow trucks, utility or highway maintenance vehicles that have their warning lights activated. If unable to move over, vehicle operators must slow down. Violations can result in a citation of $263.

“Tow truck operators, law enforcement and other emergency responders face significant risks when they’re stopped along roadways to assist motorists,” Superintendent Burrell said. “We all want to get home safely, so we’re asking drivers to be alert, move over as the law requires and provide a safety zone for roadside workers.”

In the last two years (2017 and 2018), there were a total of 1,419 traffic convictions in Wisconsin for violating the Move Over law.