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
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
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
New state residents who have fewer than three years of driving
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
“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.”
December is National Drunk & Drugged Driving Prevention
Month Drugged drivers in Wisconsin face severe punishments
December 2012 marks the ninth anniversary of a Wisconsin law that
prohibits drivers from having any detectable amount of a controlled
substance in their system, such as marijuana, cocaine or heroin,
while operating a motor vehicle. The law also makes the legal
penalties for drugged driving the same as drunken driving.
The Wisconsin State Patrol and other law enforcement agencies
throughout the state are constantly and consistently trying to combat
drugged driving. “Law enforcement officers have extensive training and
experience in procedures that effectively identify drivers impaired by
alcohol. Officers use many of those same procedures to identify
drugged drivers,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald.
“Drivers who exhibit behavior or symptoms indicative of drug use must
submit to a blood test that determines the presence of drugs. Refusing
to submit to the blood test means an automatic revocation of the
In addition to illegal drugs, the overuse or abuse of medications,
especially when combined with alcohol, will often impair driving
ability and judgment. State law prohibits drivers from being “under
the influence of any drug to a degree which renders him or her
incapable of safely driving or under the combined influence of an
intoxicant and any other drug to a degree which renders him or her
incapable of driving safely.”
Superintendent Fitzgerald says, “Drivers under the influence of
drugs, alcohol, or a combination of the two are deadly threats to
everyone on the road. That’s why officers never take a break—even over
the holiday season—from arresting those who choose to get behind the
wheel while impaired.”
How to meet the challenges of winter driving in Wisconsin
As temperatures cool and daylight dwindles, Wisconsin motorists
will soon face the seasonal onslaught of ice, snow, and limited
visibility that makes driving difficult—if not impossible—at times.
To cope with treacherous winter driving conditions, motorists should
follow common-sense precautions that will protect them and others on
On ice and snow, far too many drivers skid off
the road or crash because they were driving too fast for conditions.
“The posted speed limits are for dry pavement, and those speeds may
be hazardous when roads are slick from ice and snow. The slogan ‘Snow
Means Slow’ also applies to four-wheel drive and other heavy duty
vehicles, which need ample distance for stopping on slippery roads,
just like other vehicles,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen
Fitzgerald. “A citation for driving too fast for conditions costs
$213.10 with four demerit points.”
Winter weather also can limit visibility, so drivers must remove
all frost, ice and snow from their vehicle’s windows. “Clearing only a
small patch on a windshield or rear window is not sufficient. You must be
able to see in all directions at all times to avoid crashes.
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 wisest decision often is to stay
put and not drive. “Our 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 that are trying to
get the roads cleared,” Superintendent Fitzgerald says.
To minimize the dangers of winter driving, the State Patrol offers
the following safety tips:
Always wear your seat belt.
You and your passengers absolutely need this protection even in
low speed “fender-bender” collisions.
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
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 and correctly. It takes much longer to stop in
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 of four-wheel drive
vehicles, which generally won’t stop or grip the road in curves
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
It’s been a tough growing season this year for many Wisconsin
farmers. To help ease the burden of farmers, motorists can show some
courtesy and respect during the fall harvest season by safely sharing
the road with agricultural equipment.
To share the road safely, 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 farm equipment. They also must
be alert, focused and patient while trying to pass slow-moving
“You should not pass a slow-moving vehicle if you cannot see
clearly in front of the vehicle you intend to pass,” says State Patrol
Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “Farmers and others using
animal-drawn vehicles on a roadway have the same rights and
responsibilities as operators of motor vehicles. 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.”
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
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.
Superintendent Fitzgerald says, “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
With the end of summer vacation, drivers will once again need to
watch for children and teens walking, biking or riding buses to and
from school and follow laws designed to protect them.
“Because students, especially young children, are not always paying
attention to nearby traffic, drivers should expect the unexpected. Drivers
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
When a vehicle is crossing a sidewalk or entering an alley or
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 $232 (depending on the type of violation) along
with four demerit points assessed on their license. The cost of a fail
to yield the right of way to pedestrians citation increases if it's
the second violation within one year. A citation for
passing a vehicle that is stopped for pedestrians costs $326 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
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.
Intersection crashes can be prevented by obeying traffic signals
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. 5-11 as “National Stop on
Red Week” for 2012.
“Whether traveling on rural roads or city streets, drivers must be
cautious and focused at intersections to prevent crashes” says
Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “There are
many complex movements at intersections with vehicles entering,
crossing and exiting at different points. 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
Failing to obey a red light, stop sign or other traffic control
device at an intersection is not only dangerous--its 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.
“The key to preventing intersection crashes is quite simple,” says
Superintendent Fitzgerald. “Drivers must keep an alert eye on traffic
moving into, through, and out of the intersection. 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
Tailgating increases your risks of a traffic ticket and a crash
Drivers who follow other vehicles too closely, commonly called
tailgaters, are 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
"Most drivers who tailgate likely don’t realize how dangerous it
can be,” says Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “For your own safety and the safety of others on
the road, you don’t want to be the driver who causes a crash or fails
to avoid one because you were following too closely and couldn’t stop
when the unexpected happens. You also need to slow down and leave
sufficient space when approaching stop lights, intersections, and when
changing lanes. To avoid rear-end crashes, you should anticipate
potentially hazardous situations, like traffic slowdowns in work
zones, that could cause the driver in front of you to stop suddenly.”
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 nearly 6,000
convictions for following another vehicle too closely in Wisconsin
last year. A violation of the law costs $200.50 along with three
demerit points. In addition, car insurance premiums often skyrocket
for drivers who hit another vehicle while following too closely.
“During the heavily traveled summer driving season and throughout
the year, it’s always smart to wear a safety belt just in case your
vehicle is hit in the rear by a tailgater,” says Superintendent
“Taking a few seconds to ensure that you and your passengers are
buckled up can be a lifesaver.”
Drunken drivers face court-ordered installation of ignition
With their elaborate sound systems, sophisticated GPS devices and
other state-of-the-art gadgets, vehicles today are electronic
marvels. But there’s another technologically advanced piece of
equipment—called an ignition interlock device—that motorists
definitely don’t want attached to their dashboard.
Under a state law enacted in 2010, first-time OWI offenders
convicted with high alcohol levels and repeat drunken drivers must
have an ignition interlock device (IID) installed for a minimum of
one year on every vehicle they own, have registered in their names,
and operate. IIDs require drivers to provide a breath sample that
proves they’re alcohol-free before they can start their vehicle.
Drivers also must blow into the device periodically while driving to
ensure they remain alcohol-free.
Courts must order installation of an IID for drivers convicted of
first-offense OWI if their blood/breath alcohol was .15 or higher and
for drivers convicted of a second or subsequent OWI offense. In
addition, drivers who refused a chemical test to measure their alcohol
level at the time of arrest will have to install an IID.
Convicted OWI offenders who do not comply with a court-ordered
installation of an IID or who disconnect or tamper with an IID to
avoid detection are subject to fines of $150 to $600 and up to
six-months in jail as well as a six-month extension of the required
IID period. Proof of IID installation is required before an
occupational driver’s license is issued. Offenders must pay the
expense of installing and maintaining an IID as well as a $50
surcharge. OWI offenders with an IID restriction have a prohibited
alcohol concentration of .02 instead of the normal.08.
"Court-mandated IID installations can be effective deterrents to
impaired driving, which is persistent, prevalent and deadly,” says
Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “Approximately
40 percent of traffic deaths in Wisconsin are the result of
alcohol-related crashes. These deaths are both tragic and avoidable.
To reach the goal of zero preventable deaths in Wisconsin will require
all drivers to make the responsible decision to not get behind the
wheel if they’re impaired.”