Wisconsin already bans beginning drivers from using cellphones behind the wheel.
Now a worthy proposal by Rep. John Spiros, R-Marshfield, would similarly discourage adult drivers from distracting themselves with wireless devices.
The bill deserves strong bipartisan support.
The new restriction won’t be easy to enforce, nor will it magically stop every driver from handling their cellphones when they should be watching the road. But it will serve as a deterrent, encouraging more people to comply. That’s what happened after the state required motorists to wear seat belts: More people put them on, and today nearly 90 percent of all drivers in Wisconsin use the life-saving straps.
The “hands-free” driving bill that Spiros began circulating for cosponsors Tuesday at the statehouse in Madison is similar to a Minnesota law championed by Tom Goeltz, who lives in Hudson, about 250 miles northwest of Madison in St. Croix County. Goeltz lost his pregnant daughter three years ago when a driver believed to be distracted by his phone crashed into his daughter’s car in Stillwater, Minnesota.
Now Goeltz is advocating for Spiros’ law here.
If passed, the law would be a considerable step up from the state's current ban on texting while driving.
“We need to get this done because it’s going to save some lives here in Wisconsin,” Goeltz told The Associated Press. “We’ll never know who they are, but we’ll see it in the statistics at the end of the year.”
Twelve of the 15 states with hands-free laws experienced a decline in fatalities within two years of passage, the AP reported. And in six states, the fatalities dropped by more than 20%.
Our State Journal editorial board endorsed legislation prohibiting mostly teen drivers from using cellphones in 2012. At the same time, we encouraged motorists of all ages to pay better attention to the road. Our editorial board also endorsed a ban on texting, which became law.
The allure of cellphones has only grown since then, with streaming video, games, and myriad apps. That provides plenty of reason for the Legislature to revisit and strengthen state rules.
Spiros’ bill would prohibit all drivers from holding their cellphones to talk or type, except in emergencies. And the only thing drivers with regular licenses could do with their phones is touch them once for hands-free use. So a driver, for example, could still use a mapping app for directions. But beginning drivers with probationary licenses or instructional permits would still be forbidden from using even hands-free functions.
The maximum penalty would be $50 for a first offense, $100 for a second offense, and $150 for third or subsequent violations.
Cellphones have become so ubiquitous and diverting that further limits on drivers make good sense.
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