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Previous laws of the month
- Motorists need to follow common-sense precautions to meet the challenges of winter driving in Wisconsin - November 2013
- Motorists will need to share the road with farm equipment and other slow-moving vehicles during harvest season - October 2013
- Drivers must be even more vigilant when school starts
- September 2013
- Intersection crashes can be prevented by obeying traffic signals - August 2013
- State law protects children by requiring proper safety restraints in vehicles - July 2013
- Tailgating increases risks of crashes and road rage - June 2013
- U-turns on freeway crossovers are dangerous and illegal
- May 2013
- Wisconsin's 'Absolute Sobriety Law' means not a drop of
alcohol for drivers under age 21 - April 2013
- Drivers are responsible for all unbuckled passengers - March 2013
- State law prohibits cell phone use while driving for many teens - February 2013
- Move Over Law: Drivers must provide a safety zone for stopped law enforcement and other emergency vehicles - January 2013
Motorists need to follow common-sense precautions to meet the challenges of winter driving in Wisconsin
As temperatures cool and daylight dwindles, even lifelong residents of Wisconsin need to be reminded that the inevitable onslaught of ice, snow, and limited visibility will make winter driving difficult—if not impossible—at times. During the cold weather months, all drivers should follow common-sense precautions that will protect them and others on the road.
When roads are slick with ice or snow, far too many drivers crash or skid off the road because they were driving too fast for conditions. “The posted speed limits are set for dry pavement. But when roads are icy or snow covered, driving at the posted speed limit may be too fast for conditions. The slogan ‘Snow Means Slow’ also applies to four-wheel drive and other heavy-duty vehicles, which usually need just as much distance to stop as other vehicles,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “A citation for driving too fast for conditions costs $213.10 with four demerit points assessed on the driver’s record.”
Winter weather also can limit visibility, so drivers must remove all frost, ice and snow from their vehicle’s windows. “To see safely in all directions, you need to clear more than just a small patch on a windshield or rear window. Clearing snow and ice from the lights, hood and roof also helps improve visibility and safety,” Superintendent Fitzgerald says.
According to state law, a vehicle’s windshield, side wings, and side and rear windows must be kept clear at all times. Violating this law costs $175.30 with two demerit points.
During severe winter storms, the safest decision often is to not drive until conditions improve. “Law enforcement officers frequently respond to vehicles in the ditch and chain-reaction crashes when motorists really should not have attempted to travel. Slowed or stalled traffic on slippery roads also delays snowplows and tow trucks, which are trying to get the roads cleared,” Superintendent Fitzgerald says.
To minimize the dangers of winter driving, the State Patrol offers the following common-sense safety tips:
- Always wear your seat belt. You and your passengers absolutely need this protection even in low speed “fender-bender” crashes that frequently occur on slick roads.
- Don't use your cruise control in wintry conditions. Even on roads that appear clear, there may be slippery spots, which can cause a loss of traction and a spinout if the vehicle is in the cruise-control mode.
- Watch for slippery bridge decks. They ice up quicker than adjacent pavement.
- Look farther ahead than you normally do. If vehicles ahead of you are swerving or show other signs of loss of traction, you should slow down and take extra precautions.
- Brake early. It takes much longer to stop in adverse conditions.
- Don’t pump anti-lock brakes. With anti-lock brakes, the correct braking method is to “stomp and steer.”
- Don’t be overconfident about the traction and stopping distance of four-wheel drive vehicles, which generally won’t stop or grip the road any better than two-wheel drive vehicles.
- Avoid cutting in front of trucks, which take longer than automobiles to slow down or stop.
- Leave plenty of room for snowplows. By law, you must stay back at least 200 feet from the rear of a snowplow.
Motorists will need to share the road with farm equipment and other slow-moving vehicles during harvest season
Although tractors, combines and other modern agricultural equipment are marvelous machines in farm fields, they are not designed for speed and agility on roadways. To prevent crashes during this year’s harvest season, motorists will need to be patient and share the road with slow-moving agricultural implements.
For their own safety, as well the safety of farmers, drivers need to slow down immediately whenever they see a florescent orange slow-moving vehicle emblem on the rear of a tractor or other piece of equipment. They also must be alert, focused and patient while trying to pass slow-moving vehicles.
“You should not pass a slow-moving vehicle if you cannot see clearly in front of the vehicle you intend to pass,” says Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald.
With a recent law change, drivers may pass a slow-moving vehicle in a no passing zone if the slow moving vehicle is traveling at less than one-half of the posted speed limit and the passing can be completed safely.
For their part, farmers and other operators of slow-moving vehicles must follow safety regulations. According to state law, farm tractors, agricultural implements, animal-drawn vehicles or other vehicles that are normally operated at speeds below 25 miles-per-hour must display a “Slow Moving Vehicle” (SMV) sign on the left rear of the vehicle. In all cases—even when the vehicle is not a SMV—if it is operated during hours of darkness, the front and rear of the vehicle must have lights (white to the front, red to the rear) and the lights must be illuminated. A citation for failure to display a SMV sign or a violation of the lighting requirement each costs $162.70.
Vehicles traveling slower than normal traffic must stay as far to the right-side of the roadway as practical. This does not mean slow vehicles must drive on the shoulder of the road although this is allowed if there is room to do so safely.
“Farmers and others using animal-drawn vehicles on a roadway have the same rights and responsibilities as operators of motor vehicles,” Superintendent Fitzgerald says. “You should be careful not to frighten the animals. Do not sound your horn or flash your lights near them, and give the animals plenty of room when passing.”
Superintendent Fitzgerald adds, “Common sense, caution, and courtesy will go a long way to keeping our rural roadways safe during the harvest season.”
Drivers must be even more vigilant when school starts
By the end of summer vacation, students might not remember everything they learned the previous school year. Likewise, drivers may have forgotten some of the laws that protect students walking, biking or riding buses to and from school.
“Children and teens don't always pay attention to nearby traffic, so drivers should expect the unexpected. They will need to slow down and proceed cautiously when approaching students who are walking or riding bikes. They also will need to be particularly careful around school buses that are loading or unloading passengers,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald.
Stop for school buses
According to Wisconsin law, drivers must stop a minimum of 20 feet from a stopped school bus with its red warning lights flashing. Drivers must stop whether the bus is on their side of road, on the opposite side of the road, or at an intersection they are approaching. However, drivers are not required to stop for a school bus if they are traveling in the opposite direction on the other side of a divided roadway separated by a median or other physical barrier.
When they are passed illegally, school bus drivers are authorized to report the violator to a law enforcement agency and a citation may be issued. The owner of the vehicle, who might not be the offending driver, will then be responsible for paying the citation.
A citation for failure of a vehicle to stop for a school bus costs $326.50 with four demerit points. If reported by a school bus driver, the vehicle owner’s liability for the illegal passing of a bus costs $326.50 with no demerit points.
Students walking to school
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's 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.
- When a vehicle is crossing a sidewalk or entering an alley or driveway.
In addition, drivers may not legally overtake and pass any vehicle that has stopped for pedestrians at an intersection or crosswalk.
Drivers who fail to yield the right of way to pedestrians who are legally crossing roadways may be issued citations that cost approximately $175 to $326 (depending on the type of violation) along with four demerit points assessed on their license. The cost of the citation increases if it's the second violation within one year. A citation for passing a vehicle that is stopped for pedestrians costs $326.50 with three demerit points.
Students biking to school
When drivers are passing bicycles traveling in the same direction, they must leave a safe distance of no less than 3-feet of clearance and must maintain that clearance until they have safely passed the bicycle.
A violation of the state law that requires drivers to overtake and pass bicyclists safely costs a total of $200.50 with three demerit points. The cost for a second violation within four years increases to $263.50 with three points.
Superintendent Fitzgerald says, “As another school year begins, we are asking all motorists to be patient, cautious and attentive whenever they are near students who are walking, biking or riding a bus."
Intersection crashes can be prevented by obeying traffic signals
Drivers who roll through a stop sign or try to beat a red light at an intersection are not just impatient and careless. They are a real threat to everyone else on the road. Crashes at intersections cause approximately 20 percent of all traffic deaths nationwide each year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
To remind drivers that obeying traffic signs and signals at intersections can be a matter of life or death, the Federal Highway Administration has designated Aug. 4-10 as “National Stop on Red Week” for 2013.
“Intersections are some of the most dangerous places motorists encounter,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “There are many complex movements at intersections with vehicles entering, crossing and exiting at different points. Pedestrians and bicyclists also may be crossing at intersections. If drivers disregard the traffic controls by failing to stop completely at a red light or stop sign, they endanger themselves and others. Crashes at intersections cause many deaths and serious injuries because vehicles often are hit in the side where there is less protection for drivers and passengers.”
Failing to obey a red light, stop sign or other traffic control device at an intersection is not only dangerous—it’s expensive. A violation for failing to stop completely for a traffic signal, sign or marking costs $175.30 with three demerit points assessed on the driver’s record, according to state law. Committing a second offense within a year costs $213.10 with another three points.
“To prevent intersection crashes, drivers must keep an alert eye on traffic moving into, through, and out of the intersection,” says Superintendent Fitzgerald. “They also must obey all traffic signals and signs. Drivers should make it a habit to stop completely on red and not race through a yellow light to beat a red light. At a yellow light, drivers must stop unless they’re so close to the intersection that they can’t stop safely. Traffic engineering has improved the safety of intersections, so now it’s up to drivers do their part.”
State law protects children by requiring proper safety restraints in vehicles
Although children quickly outgrow their clothes, toys and favorite entertainment, they never will outgrow the need to be protected while riding in a motor vehicle. Traffic crashes are the number one cause of death for children ages 1 to 12, according to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA).
To help parents and other adults who transport children determine an age-appropriate safety seat and ensure it is used correctly, the State Patrol’s Zero In Wisconsin program has an easy-to-understand video available online at http://www.zeroinwisconsin.gov/ChildSafetySeats/.
The video shows the four-step progression in child passenger safety required by state law. Generally, state law requires that children must be restrained in a child safety seat until they reach age 4 and in a booster seat until age 8. The four-step progression is:
- A child who is less than 1-year-old or who weighs less than 20 pounds must be properly restrained in a rear-facing child safety seat in the back seat of the vehicle if the vehicle is equipped with a back seat.
- A child who is at least 1-year-old and weighs at least 20 pounds but is less than 4-years-old or weighs less than 40 pounds must be properly restrained in a forward-facing child safety seat in the back seat of the vehicle if the vehicle is equipped with a back seat.
- A child who is at least 4-years-old but less than 8-years-old, weighs at least 40 pounds but not more than 80 pounds, and is no more than 57-inches tall must be properly restrained in a child booster seat.
- A child who is age 8 or older or weighs more than 80 pounds or is taller than 57 inches must be properly restrained by a safety belt.
It is recommended that children ride in the back seat until they reach age 12.
The total cost of a safety restraint violation involving a child under the age of 4 is $175.30, and the cost for a violation involving a child from age 4 to 8 is $150.10. These costs increase for subsequent offenses within a three-year period.
Adults who wish to provide even greater protection for children—beyond what is required by state law—or need to locate a trained child safety seat technician to ensure proper installation should consult: www.healthychildren.org or www.nhtsa.gov/cps/cpsfitting.
“Parents, grandparents, child-care providers and others who transport children should get the information they need to protect their cherished passengers. The best way to keep children safe in a vehicle is to use the right safety seat at the right age and always use it the right way,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “Not only will children be well protected, they also will have a foundation for a lifelong habit of safety belt use.”
Tailgating increases risks of crashes and road rage
You might not be able to define aggressive driving, but you likely know it when you see it. One of the most common types of aggressive driving is following too closely, which is commonly known as tailgating.
Aggressive tailgaters can be more than just a nuisance. They cause countless collisions—from fender benders to violent crashes—and may even trigger road rage incidents when they suddenly appear in rear-view mirrors.
"Even if they’re not intentionally aggressive, drivers who tailgate frequently will cause a crash or fail to avoid one,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald.
According to state law, drivers "shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent" based on the speed of the vehicle, road conditions, and traffic. There were more than 5,700 convictions for following another vehicle too closely in Wisconsin last year.
A violation of the law costs $200.50 along with three demerit points assessed on a driver’s license. In addition, car insurance premiums often skyrocket for drivers who hit another vehicle while following too closely.
“For their own safety and the safety of others on the road, drivers should be patient, slowdown and maintain a safe distance from vehicles near them especially when approaching intersections or changing lanes,” Superintendent Fitzgerald says. “To avoid rear-end crashes, they should anticipate potentially hazardous situations, like traffic slowdowns in work zones, that could cause the vehicles ahead to stop suddenly. A fine for following too closely in a work zone is double the normal amount.”
“During the heavily traveled summer driving season and throughout the year, it’s always smart to buckle your safety belt in case your vehicle is hit by a tailgater,” says Superintendent Fitzgerald. “Taking a few seconds to ensure that you and your passengers are buckled up can be a lifesaver. And it’s the law.”
U-turns on freeway crossovers are dangerous and illegal
If you miss your exit or need to change direction on an interstate highway or other freeway, you might be tempted to make a U-turn at a median crossover that connects with the opposite lanes. It’s a temptation you must resist. The signs warning that U-turns at freeway crossovers are illegal should be your first clue that the maneuver is not only against the law—it’s dangerous too.
“If you slow down to make an illegal U-turn at a crossover, other drivers travelling behind at highway speeds may not be able to slow down and react in time. And when you attempt to merge back into traffic lanes from the crossover, your vehicle will be re-entering at less than highway speeds and in the path of oncoming drivers when they least expect it,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “Instead of making an illegal and dangerous U-turn, you should proceed to the next freeway exit and then use the overpass to get to the on-ramp on the opposite side. It’s well worth the extra time and distance.”
Earlier this year, the State Patrol responded to a crash caused by a driver who slowed down in the left lane of I-39/90 southbound in Dane County to make an illegal U-turn from a crossover. Traffic around the slowed vehicle had to brake suddenly to avoid a crash. A driver, who attempted to avoid hitting the slowed automobile, lost control of his vehicle and was struck broadside in the right lane by a southbound semi. The driver who was hit by the semi sustained serious head injuries.
By law, crossovers may only be used by law enforcement and other authorized vehicles. Drivers of these specially equipped vehicles are well trained and extremely cautious about using freeway crossovers. For all other drivers, a violation for illegally crossing a divided highway in Wisconsin costs $263.50.
Wisconsin's 'Absolute Sobriety Law' means not a drop of alcohol for drivers under age 21
With the start of the high school prom season and graduation parties soon to follow, the State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies are reminding young motorists and their parents about Wisconsin’s Absolute Sobriety Law for drivers under age 21.
The law is quite simple. Absolute sobriety for drivers under age 21 means they may not consume any amount of alcohol—not even a drop—and legally operate a motor vehicle.
Young drivers convicted of violating Wisconsin’s Absolute Sobriety Law will have their license suspended for three months. They also will have to pay a $389.50 citation and will have four demerit points assessed on their license.
“At any age, alcohol even in small amounts may impair the mental and physical skills needed to drive safely, such as decision-making, concentration, coordination and reaction time. However, teens and young people, who often are inexperienced drivers, are especially susceptible to the adverse effects of alcohol on their driving ability.” says Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for young people in Wisconsin. And as the prom and graduation party season begins, we don’t want young drivers or their passengers to suffer serious injuries or tragic deaths because of a disastrous decision, such as getting behind the wheel after drinking.”
Drivers are responsible for all unbuckled passengers
Like an airline pilot, all drivers must ensure that all their passengers are buckled up before departing for their destination whether they’re traveling just down the road or across the state. In fact, drivers may be charged with a safety belt violation for each unbuckled passenger.
If a child is unrestrained in a vehicle, the cost to the driver will increase significantly. A violation of child safety restraint requirements costs from $150 to $263 depending on the age of the child and the number of offenses within a three-year period.
Passengers who are unbuckled are extremely vulnerable to serious injury or death in a crash even at relatively low speeds. In 2012, there was a dramatic 37 percent increase in fatalities for passengers in automobiles and light trucks compared with the previous year, according to the Wisconsin State Patrol.
“The significant increase in passengers’ deaths in 2012 indicates that there were far too many vehicle occupants who likely died because they were not wearing safety belts and consequently were ejected from their vehicle or thrown around violently inside it during crashes,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “In addition, unrestrained passengers have been known to smash with massive force into other occupants causing serious or fatal injuries.”
To increase compliance with the mandatory safety belt law, the State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies continue to crack down on unbelted drivers and passengers.
“There were more than 100,000 convictions in Wisconsin for failure to fasten safety belts last year. Among all traffic violations statewide, safety belt convictions were second only to speeding convictions,” says Superintendent Fitzgerald. “Click It or Ticket is more than just a slogan. When officers see an unbelted motorist, they will stop the vehicle and issue a citation.”
State law prohibits cell phone use while driving for many teens
A recently enacted state law prohibits drivers with an instruction permit or probationary license—which includes many teenagers—from “using a cellular or other wireless telephone except to report an emergency.” A driver violating this restriction on cell phone use is subject to a forfeiture of $20 to $40 plus court and other costs for a first offense and $50 to $100 plus court and other costs for a subsequent offense within a year.
“Cell phone use can distract a driver’s attention from traffic and road conditions. Distracted driving is a problem even for experienced drivers. But it often is even more hazardous for teen drivers and others who are not experienced,” says Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “Traffic crashes kill more teenagers in Wisconsin and the rest of the nation than any other cause of death. And distracted driving is a factor in many of these crashes.”
Although the law affects many teen drivers, the cell phone restrictions also apply to other drivers with a Wisconsin probationary license, such as:
- Drivers licensed in other countries.
- Persons with suspended or revoked instruction permits or probationary licenses.
- New state residents who have fewer than three years of driving experience.
- New state residents under the age of 21.
- New state residents who surrender a license that is expired for more than six months.
In addition, Wisconsin law prohibits texting while driving for all motorists of all ages.
To prevent distractions from cell phone use and texting, the State Patrol advises all drivers to:
- Turn off your phone or switch to a silent mode.
- Use voice mail to tell callers that you’re driving and will return the call as soon as possible.
- If you absolutely need to use your cell phone to call or text, pull over to a safe area.
- Ask a passenger to make a call or text for you.
Cell phone use and texting are just two of many types of distractions that increase a driver’s risk of causing a crash or failing to avoid one, according to Superintendent Fitzgerald.
“Every time you drive, you are legally and morally responsible for safely operating a potentially destructive, and even deadly, force,” Superintendent Fitzgerald says. “That’s why driving requires your undivided attention. Any lapse in attention to traffic or road conditions is a grave danger to you, your passengers and everyone else on the road. No attempt to multi-task in your vehicle, no phone call, and no text message is more important than a human life.”
Move Over Law: Drivers must provide a safety zone for stopped law enforcement and other emergency vehicles
Even when the wind is howling, the snow is blowing and the temperature is falling, law enforcement officers, tow truck operators and emergency responders are busy working day and night on the side of highways to rescue motorists and remove vehicles that have slid off icy roads or skidded into other vehicles. Although severe winter weather conditions test their resolve, the greatest danger these workers face is being hit by vehicles traveling at high speeds just a few feet away.
To protect law enforcement officers, tow truck operators, emergency responders, road maintenance workers, and others who work on the side of roadways, Wisconsin has a Move Over Law. This state law requires drivers to shift lanes if possible or slow down in order to create a safety zone for a law enforcement vehicle, ambulance, fire truck, tow truck or highway maintenance vehicle that is stopped or parked on the side of a road with its warning lights flashing.
“To create a safety zone on interstate highways and other divided roads with multiple directional lanes, you must move over to vacate the lane closest to the law enforcement or other emergency vehicle if you can safely switch lanes,” says Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “If the road has a single directional lane or you can’t safely move over because of traffic, you must reduce your speed until safely past the vehicle.”
Violating the Move Over Law can be expensive as well as dangerous. A citation costs $263.50 with three demerit points added to your license.
“Law enforcement officers are well trained and equipped to protect themselves. But their only defense against being hit by a vehicle is in the hands of the driver. Failure of motorists to create a safety zone by moving over or slowing down is one of the major reasons that motor vehicle crashes kill more law enforcement officers on duty than any other cause. Tow truck operators, highway maintenance workers and emergency responders also are killed and injured when drivers don’t move over or slow down,” says Superintendent Fitzgerald. “By obeying the Move Over Law, drivers can protect themselves, their passengers, our officers and others who work on highways from needless injuries and deaths.”
Steve L. Olson, email@example.com
Last modified: November 26, 2013
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