Previous laws of the month

September - State Patrol September Law of the Month focuses on railroad safety

Wisconsin has more than 3,300 miles of active train tracks and more than 4,000 public railroad crossings. Last year, there were 48 train-related crashes in Wisconsin that resulted in nine injuries and four fatalities. In addition, four people were killed and two injured while trespassing on rail property. With national Rail Safety Week set for September 21 – 27, the Wisconsin State Patrol September Law of the Month focuses on safety at rail crossings and rail yards.

“Many crashes at rail crossings occur when drivers disregard warning signs or signals,” Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Tony Burrell said. “Trains require a considerable distance to slow down or stop. That’s why it’s vital for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians to obey warning signs, eliminate distractions, look and listen carefully before crossing railroad tracks.”

State law (346.44) requires drivers to stop at railroad crossings when any warning device, traffic officer or railroad employee signals to stop. The law prohibits vehicle operators from driving “through, around or under any crossing gate or barrier.” A citation for driving through or around a
railroad crossing carries a fine of up to $400 and assessment of six demerit points.

Safety tips for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians:

  • Cross train tracks only at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings. Obey all warning signs and signals. Never drive or walk around lowered crossing gates;
  • Remember that freight trains don’t have fixed schedules and can be seen any time of day;
  • Getting stuck in traffic within a rail crossing is dangerous. Before you cross, make sure you have enough room to clear the tracks. Trains overhang tracks by at least three feet on both sides;
  • Train tracks and rail yards are private property. Trespassing is illegal and dangerous.

“Safety at railroad crossings extends to all travelers including motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians,” Superintendent Burrell said. “Cell phones and other electronic devices can be dangerous distractions, but especially at rail crossings where you really need to focus, look and listen.”

August - State Patrol August Law of the Month focuses on speeding

Excessive speed is a common factor behind many traffic-related crashes, injuries and deaths in Wisconsin. In 2019, there were 21,813 speed-related crashes in Wisconsin that resulted in 8,398 injuries and 163 deaths. The State Patrol Law of the Month for August highlights Wisconsin speed-related laws (346.57) and reminds drivers that speeding can result in a fine and higher insurance rates – or worse yet – can cost you or someone else their life.

“Drivers who disregard speed laws and limits endanger everyone along our roadways,” said Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Anthony Burrell. “Our message to drivers is simple – buckle up, phones down, slow down. We want everyone to reach their destinations safely.”

Last year in Wisconsin, there were 156,242 traffic convictions for 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 specific driving conditions including weather and traffic volumes;
  • Travelling at an excessive speed greatly increases the chance of a driver losing control of their vehicle. Speeders also have less time to react should traffic ahead slow down or stop. Along with watching their speed, drivers should always scan the road ahead carefully for potential hazards, traffic incidents or stopped emergency vehicles.

“Virtually every day, we see the tragic outcomes associated with excessive speed,” Superintendent Burrell said. “What’s most tragic is such incidents are totally preventable.”

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.