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Texting and Driving - Potential Criminal Charges?

Attorney Dave Stegall discusses how texting while driving can lead to bad outcomes ranging from receiving a civil citation to causing an otherwise avoidable accident. Learn how to be a safer, more informed driver by reading Dave's five points about Wisconsin's inattentive driving prohibition, which includes texting while driving.
Texting and Driving - Potential Criminal Charges?

David Stegall

With the surging popularity of "smart phones" we are all tied to our cell phones more than ever. Our smart phones are much more than a phone in the traditional sense. We have the capability to call, text, email, tweet, post, surf the internet, watch a movie, and much more with these new gadgets. All these features are wonderful, but provide a never-ending source of distraction. Driving while "distracted" can lead to bad outcomes ranging from receiving a civil citation for inattentive driving to causing an otherwise avoidable (and tragic) car accident.

This blog will highlight five points about Wisconsin's inattentive driving prohibition, including the ban on texting while driving, with the goal of making you a more informed and safer driver.

 

  1. Unlike other states, there is no law against using your cell phone while driving in Wisconsin. However, Wisconsin law does prohibit "inattentive driving" and texting while driving. Specifically, the texting ban prohibits drivers from composing or sending texts and emails; however, the law does not prohibit reading or receiving text messages (or emails) as long as the activity does not interfere with the safe driving of the vehicle.
  2. Using a cell phone (including handheld and hands-free modes of operation) while driving is against the law in Wisconsin for any driver with a probationary license or instruction permit, except to report an emergency. Although the law mainly affects teenagers it applies to all drivers with a probationary license or instruction permit, not just those under the age of 18.
  3. You can't watch television while driving! Don't worry, movies in the backseats for the kids are fine, but our inattentive driving law also prohibits driving a vehicle equipped with a device for visually receiving television broadcasts, if the device is located anywhere forward of the rear of the driver's seat or any place where the driver can see it while driving.
  4. If a person receives a citation for texting while driving or another form of inattentive, first time offenders could face a fine as low as $20, but repeat offenders could face fines has high as $400. In addition, four demerit points could be assessed on your driving record.
  5. Wisconsin's texting laws are considered "primary" laws. This means that a police officer can pull you over for the offense without having to witness some other violation. That is, if the officer sees you texting or driving while distracted, he or she can initiate a traffic stop and issue a citation.


According to the Wisconsin DMV here are some best practices to safely use your cell phone while traveling:

  • Turn off your phone or switch to silent mode;
  • Use voice mail to inform callers that you are driving and will return the call as soon as possible;
  • Pull over and stop in a safe area if you must use your cell phone;or ask a passenger to call or text for you.
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