WI lawmakers hope to address hands-free driving

Published: Aug. 6, 2019 at 4:46 PM CDT
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Holding your cell phone while driving can get you into trouble if you live in Minnesota. The law went into effect on August 1st. It makes it illegal to hold your phone to navigate, talk, or text.

Wisconsin lawmakers are hoping to follow Minnesota’s lead.

According to the department of transportation, 1 in 5 crashes involve distracted driving. The DOT says in 2015, there were more than 24,000 distracted driving crashes in the badger state, which equates to 1 crash every 22 minutes.

Representative Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, says she would be in favor of a hands-free law to ensure public safety.

“I think it’s really important that we look holistically at this, all-encompassing, and making sure that our statues are keeping up with technology,” said Emerson.

Representative Warren Petryk, R-Eau Claire, says he is also in favor of supporting a hands-free law and said he is sure it would receive bi-partisan support.

“Hands-free driving is one of the tools that we can use to create a safer environment for all drivers,” said Petryk.

The DOT says the typical distraction requires the driver to take his or her attention off driving for less than 5 seconds. If a driver is going 55 miles per hour and gets distracted for less than 5 seconds, he or she has traveled the length of an entire football field. That's more than 100 yards without paying attention.

Chapin Turner, a driver in Eau Claire, said he has been using Bluetooth while driving for years.

“It’s almost 2020, I think everybody should have Bluetooth,” said Turner. “For the safety of everybody, I think you should have both hands on the wheel and be attentive to what’s going on around you.”

Right now in Wisconsin, it is illegal to text and drive for all drivers, but you can talk on your cell phone while driving. This new push for a hands-free law would make it illegal to talk on your cell phone while driving and require you to use a hands-free system like Bluetooth.

“If I have to take a call, I try and pull over,” said Barb Johnson, a Chetek resident who supports hands-free driving.

Johnson says she isn’t too technology savvy, but said she is willing to learn new technology to stay safe.

“My particular ride doesn’t have that, so I’m hoping to figure out some kind of an earpiece or hands-free thing that I can answer,” said Johnson.

The DOT says you can avoid the risk by turning off your phone or switch it to silent mode every time you get behind the wheel or pull over and stop in a safe area if you must use your cell phone.

For more information on cell phones, driving, and the law in Wisconsin,