WisDOT focuses on reckless driving prevention as new law toughens penalties

Photo of student driver and instructor at nonprofit Operation Fresh Start
Photo of student driver and instructor at nonprofit Operation Fresh Start(WMTV/Michelle Baik)
Published: Jul. 5, 2023 at 5:31 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - All month long, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation says it’ll be focused on curbing bad behavior on the road, as it cites reckless driving trends.

A new law could help. Since it passed this spring, 2023 Wisconsin Act Nine has toughened penalties for reckless driving offenses in the state. A first offense of reckless driving could cost drivers up to $400, compared to $200 before the law, according to a memo from the Wisconsin Legislative Council.

If someone is seriously injured in a reckless driving crash, the driver could face up to six years in prison and $10,000 in fines, WisDOT explained.

“There’s also enhancements like the driver’s surcharge so that there’s extra penalties added on with the hope of curbing this bad behavior,” David Pabst, director of the WisDOT Bureau of Transportation Safety, said.

The department cites examples of a reckless driving charge: speeding, improper lane changes and “inattentive, erratic, or aggressive driving.” Other examples include red light running, tailgating, illegal passing and drifting.

Pabst says while penalties are important, they alone cannot fix the ongoing issue. Roughly 3,000 people are hurt by a reckless driver ever year in Wisconsin, WisDOT says.

“I think the only thing that really is going to work is if everyone pitches in because it takes engineering, it takes enforcement, it also takes education, and so everyone has to partake and change the way they think about driving,” he said.

Education is also big at Operation Fresh Start in Madison. Jasmine Banks, a program manager, helps young adults get their driver’s licenses and keep them.

“When we talk about recklessness, we talk about cars holistically, meaning it’s more than just getting your driver’s license. It’s a whole bunch of other things in order for young folks to realize that ‘I’ve earned this, and I don’t want to give it away by being reckless,’” she said.

For the nonprofit, this means talking with students about topics related to cars, like finances and mental health. As students hear from different community partners, they also gain new relationships, which Banks thinks is yet another key factor in safe roads.

“‘I don’t want to go out on the street and be reckless because I could hurt somebody that I’ve just engaged with,’” she explained.

Click here to download the NBC15 News app or our NBC15 First Alert weather app.