New Wisconsin law cracks down on cell phone use near crash sites

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 6:04 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - A Wisconsin law bans drivers from using cell phones near crash sites.

The legislation, signed into law by Gov. Tony Evers Monday, makes it illegal for drivers to use handheld devices within 500 feet of a crash.

Wisconsin State Patrol Trooper Ashley Morales said danger doesn’t stop once she responds to a crash site.

“We see close calls out there all the time,” she said.

In fact, as more traffic approaches, another collision becomes more likely.

“On crash scenes things became a lot more dangerous,” Morales said. “There’s more people on scene, more vehicles, there’s flashing lights that can be distracting, there typically can be lane closures where there’s less space to be driving. So when the drivers are coming through these areas, that’s when they really need to be paying attention more.”

Unfortunately, she said drivers seeing those flashing lights doesn’t mean they’ll start paying attention. She sees many people trying to capture wreckage on their cell phones.

“That is not safe for anybody there,” Morales said. “That is just going to make the accident scene a lot worse for everybody.”

“These cell phones, when they do that, it can cause secondary crashes and injury if you are driving and using your phone at the same time,” State Rep. Jesse James, R-Altoona, said.

He cosponsored the legislation.

James said the new law copies other states by establishing “emergency or roadside response zones,” which are considered within 500 feet of responding emergency vehicles or tow trucks with their lights on. Drivers are prohibited from using cell phones in those zones.

The new law does not apply to traffic stops.

As the former Altoona Police Chief, James said he’s seen his fair share of close calls at crash sites.

“These crashes can be avoidable and we just need to get the recognition, the prevention and the education out there and just remind people move over or slow down,” he said. “If you’re approaching emergency vehicles, slow down immediately.”

The law also creates new penalties if a driver hurts someone while committing a traffic violation in a construction zone, utility work area or emergency response area.

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