Drivers must provide a safe work zone for emergency responders on the roads.
State law, which took effect in December 2021, aims to protect first responders by banning cell phone use in an emergency response area and creating new penalties for drivers who injure or kill a worker on the side of the road. The goal is to reduce distracted driving and improve safety for drivers and workers.
Wisconsin Act 115 defines an emergency or roadside response area as the section of road within 500 feet of an authorized emergency vehicle with a visible signal, or a tow truck with flashing red lights.
Fines double for certain traffic violations where crews are working on:
- Highway maintenance
- Utility work
- Emergency response
- Roadside response
If a driver causes bodily harm to a worker, they may be fined up to $10,000 or jailed nine months, or both. A court may also order 100 to 200 hours of community service and mandatory traffic school.
Cell phone use
The law states drivers cannot use a handheld phone while passing through a highway maintenance or construction area, or in a utility work area or emergency or roadside response area. Previously the use of cell phones was banned in construction zones.
The only exception is to report an emergency. Using a voice-operated or hands-free device is allowed.
Move over or slow down
The emergency response area law improves protections for first responders to supplement the state’s Move Over law. Drivers are required to move out of the lane closest to an emergency vehicle with its lights flashing. Drivers must slow down if they cannot move over.
From 2017 to 2021, there were nearly 2,400 crashes involving emergency vehicles in Wisconsin. About 735 people were injured and five were killed in those incidents.