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Previous laws of the month
- Motorists need to follow common-sense precautions to
meet the challenges of winter driving in Wisconsin - November
Motorists will need to share the road with farm equipment and other slow-moving vehicles during harvest season - October 2014
- Drivers should be patient, cautious, attentive as school year starts - September 2014
- State law prohibits cell phone use while driving for many teens - August 2014
- Motorcycle riders are required to have a motorcycle license - July 2014
- Tailgating increases risks of crashes and road rage - June 2014
- U-turns on freeway crossovers are dangerous and illegal - May 2014
- State law requires headlight use so you can see and be seen - April 2014
- Drivers may receive a ticket for unbuckled passengers - March 2014
- Driving too fast for conditions causes many wintertime crashes - February 2014
- Move Over Law: Drivers must provide a safety zone for stopped law enforcement and other emergency vehicles - January 2014
Motorists need to follow common-sense precautions to meet the challenges of winter driving in Wisconsin
Some people embrace while others dread winter in Wisconsin. But no matter how you feel about winter months, the inevitable onslaught of ice, snow, and limited visibility will make driving challenging and at times impossible.
When roads are slick with ice or snow, far too many drivers crash or skid off the road because they were driving too fast for conditions. “The posted speed limits, which are set for dry pavement, may be too fast for conditions when roads are snow covered and slippery. The slogan ‘Snow Means Slow’ also applies to four-wheel drive and other heavy-duty vehicles. They usually need just as much distance to stop as other vehicles,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “A citation for driving too fast for conditions costs $213.10 with four demerit points assessed on the driver’s record.”
Winter weather also can limit visibility, so drivers must remove all frost, ice and snow from their vehicle’s windows. “To see safely in all directions, you need to clear more than just a small patch on a windshield or rear window. 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 safest decision often is to stay off roadways completely until conditions improve. “Law enforcement officers frequently respond to vehicles in the ditch and chain-reaction crashes when motorists should not have attempted to travel. Slowed or stalled traffic on slippery roads also delays snowplows and tow trucks, which are trying to get the roads cleared, as well as emergency responders.” Superintendent Fitzgerald says.
To minimize the dangers of winter driving, the State Patrol offers the following common-sense safety tips:
- Always wear your seat belt. You and your passengers absolutely need this protection even in low speed “fender-bender” crashes that frequently occur on slick roads.
- 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 cruise-control mode.
- 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. It takes much longer to stop in adverse conditions.
- 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 and stopping distance of four-wheel drive vehicles, which generally won’t stop or grip the road 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.
- Obey the Move Over Law, which requires drivers to shift lanes or slow down in order to provide a safety zone for a law enforcement vehicle, tow truck, ambulance, fire truck, highway maintenance vehicle, or utility vehicle that is stopped on the side of a road with its warning lights flashing.
- If your vehicle gets stuck or becomes disabled, stay inside it with your seat belt fastened until a tow truck or other help arrives. If you’re inside your vehicle and buckled up, you have protection against other out-of-control vehicles. There’s no protection outside your vehicle.
Motorists will need to share the road with farm equipment and other slow-moving vehicles during harvest season
As farmers move from field to field during the fall harvest, drivers will need to share the road with slow-moving agricultural implements.
Drivers should slow down immediately whenever they see a florescent orange slow-moving vehicle emblem on the rear of a tractor or other piece of equipment. They also must be alert, focused and patient while trying to pass slow-moving vehicles.
“Before you attempt to pass a slow-moving vehicle, make sure you can clearly see what’s up ahead in front of that vehicle,” says Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald.
To do their part in preventing crashes, 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 illuminated (white to the front, red to the rear). 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.
“Farmers and others using animal-drawn vehicles on a roadway have the same rights and responsibilities as operators of motor vehicles,” Superintendent Fitzgerald says. “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.”
Superintendent Fitzgerald adds, “Caution, courtesy and common sense will go a long way to keeping our rural roadways safe during the harvest season.”
Drivers should be patient, cautious, attentive as school year starts
The start of the school year can be an exciting time for students, a relief for parents and a wake-up call for drivers.
“Drivers should expect the unexpected because children and teens on their way to and from school don’t always pay attention to nearby traffic. Drivers will need to slow down and pay attention 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
Wisconsin law requires 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 control signals.
- When a vehicle is crossing a sidewalk or entering an alley or driveway.
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 $326 (depending on the type of violation) along with four demerit points assessed on their license. The cost of the citation increases if it's the second violation within one year. A citation for passing a vehicle that is stopped for pedestrians costs $326.50 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 bicycle.
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.
Superintendent Fitzgerald says, “As another school year begins, we are asking drivers to be patient, cautious and attentive whenever they are near students who are walking, biking or riding a bus."
State law prohibits cell phone use while driving for many teens
Cell phone use generally is a harmless habit for many people. However, for some people cell phone use while driving may have serious consequences.
State law prohibits drivers with an instruction permit or probationary license—which includes many teenagers--from using a cell phone except to report an emergency. A violation of this law costs $162.70 with four demerit points on a driver’s license, and a second violation with a year costs $200.50 with another four demerit points.
“While using their cell phone, drivers might not be paying attention to rapidly changing traffic and road conditions. Distracted driving is a serious problem even for experienced drivers. But it often is even more hazardous for teen drivers and others who are not experienced,” says 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 crashes.”
Although the law affects many teen drivers, 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 probationary licenses.
- New state residents who have fewer than three years of driving experience.
- 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 everyone regardless of age or experience. A violation of the law banning texting while driving costs $187.90 with four demerit points.
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.”
Motorcycle riders are required to have a motorcycle license
As motorcycles continue to grow in popularity among men and women of all ages, there also is a growing need to prevent motorcycle crashes. Last year, 83 motorcyclists died in Wisconsin traffic crashes and nearly 2,000 were injured.
To help prevent deaths and injuries, the Wisconsin State Patrol urges riders to get trained and get licensed. About 35 percent of motorcyclists’ fatalities from 2003 to 2012 involved riders who had not completed the safety training or skills test required to obtain a motorcycle license.
A regular Class D driver’s license for operating automobiles and light trucks is not sufficient for motorcycle operation. Motorcycle riders must also have a Class M motorcycle license. Riders who do not have a valid motorcycle license may receive a citation costing $200 per violation.
“Too many people continue to ride without a motorcycle license,” says Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “It’s a serious problem especially for those who have not ridden a motorcycle for several years and are beginning to ride again. Riding a motorcycle requires more physical skill and mental concentration than driving a car, so riders need to get trained and get licensed for their safety and the safety of others on the road.”
Obtaining a motorcycle license is not complicated. Motorcyclists must pass a written test and a road test at a DMV service center. Motorcyclists who successfully complete one of the following Wisconsin Motorcycle Safety Program courses do not have to take the road test at the DMV to get their license.
- Basic Rider Course for Motorcycles
- Basic Rider Course for Scooters
- Basic Rider Course for Three-Wheel Motorcycles (trikes)
- Basic Rider Course 2 (for intermediate or advanced level riders)
More information about rider training courses is available online at: www.dot.wisconsin.gov/safety/vehicle/motorcycle.
Tailgating increases risks of crashes and road rage
Tailgating parties may be a great way to meet people in a stadium parking lot, but tailgating on a street or highway certainly won’t win you any friends.
“Tailgating, also known as following too closely, is not a harmless way for inpatient drivers to vent frustration with slower vehicles. It causes countless collisions—from fender benders to violent crashes—and may even trigger road rage incidents,” says Wisconsin State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald.
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 5,500 convictions for following another vehicle too closely in Wisconsin last year.
A violation of the law costs $200.50 along with three demerit points assessed on a driver’s license. In addition, car insurance premiums often skyrocket for drivers who hit another vehicle while following too closely.
“To avoid rear-end crashes, drivers should be patient, slow down and maintain a safe distance from vehicles ahead of them, especially when approaching intersections or changing lanes,” Superintendent Fitzgerald says. “They also should anticipate situations that might cause other drivers to slow down or stop suddenly, like heavy traffic in work zones. A fine for following too closely in a work zone is double the normal amount. It’s also smart to buckle your safety belt in case your vehicle is hit by a tailgater.”
U-turns on freeway crossovers are dangerous and illegal
If you miss an exit ramp, encounter a traffic back-up, or want to change directions for any reason on an interstate highway or freeway, you may wonder what to do. The one thing you should not do is make a U-turn using the median crossover that connects with the lanes in the opposite direction. The signs warning that U-turns at freeway crossovers are illegal should be your first clue that this action is not only against the law—it’s extremely dangerous, too.
“If you slow down to make an illegal U-turn at a crossover, other drivers following you at highway speeds may not be able to slow down and react in time. And when you attempt to merge back into traffic lanes from the crossover, your vehicle will be re-entering at less than highway speeds and in the path of oncoming drivers when they least expect it,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “Instead of making an illegal and dangerous U-turn, you should drive to the next exit and then use the overpass to get to the on-ramp on the opposite side. It’s well worth the extra time and distance.”
By law, crossovers may only be used by law enforcement and other authorized vehicles. Law enforcement officers and drivers of other authorized vehicles are well trained and extremely cautious when using freeway crossovers. For all other drivers, a violation for illegally crossing a divided highway in Wisconsin costs $263.50.
State law requires headlight use so you can see and be seen
If you can see traffic around you and be seen by other drivers, your chances of reaching your destination safely obviously improve. That’s why the Wisconsin State Patrol reminds drivers to turn on their headlights when needed.
According to state law, you must use headlights during hours of darkness, which is defined as “the period of time from one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise and all other times when there is not sufficient natural light to render clearly visible any person or vehicle upon a highway at a distance of 500 feet.”
To increase headlight effectiveness, you should use high beams whenever there are no oncoming vehicles because high beams let you see twice as far, advises State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald.
“However, you must dim your high beams whenever you approach an oncoming vehicle within 500 feet, which is about one-tenth of a mile. High beams also should be dimmed when you are 500 feet or less behind another vehicle or when traffic is heavy,” Superintendent Fitzgerald says. “Low beams should be used when driving in fog or heavy rain because the light from high beams will reflect off the precipitation and cause glare. Don’t drive with only your parking lights on. Parking lights are for parking only.”
A citation for failing to use headlights when required or failing to dim high beams within 500 feet of another vehicle will cost drivers $162.70 plus three demerit points.
“Besides helping you see the road and other vehicles, headlights also make your vehicle more visible to other drivers,” Superintendent Fitzgerald said. “This is especially true on rainy or foggy days. A sensible rule to follow is that if you turn on your windshield wipers also turn on your headlights.”
Drivers may receive a ticket for unbuckled passengers
Drivers have a moral and legal responsibility for the safety of their passengers. That legal responsibility includes ensuring their passengers are buckled up. According to state law, drivers who allow unbuckled passengers in their vehicle may be issued a ticket.
When young children are not properly restrained in a vehicle, the driver faces even more significant penalties. A violation of child safety restraint requirements costs from $175 to $263 depending on the age of the child and the number of offenses within a three-year period. To help ensure children are properly restrained in vehicles, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation provides an instructional online video titled “How to Properly Use Child Safety Seats” at its zeroinwisconsin.gov website.
“No matter where they are seated, passengers who are unbuckled are at risk of being ejected from a vehicle or thrown around violently inside it during a crash,” says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “In addition, unbuckled passengers during a crash can smash into other vehicle occupants with massive force 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 70,000 convictions in Wisconsin for failure to fasten safety belts in 2013.” says Superintendent Fitzgerald. “Click It or Ticket is more than just a slogan in Wisconsin. When our officers see an unbelted driver or passenger, they will stop that vehicle and issue a citation.”
Driving too fast for conditions causes many wintertime crashes
Even people who pride themselves in always being in control can quickly lose control of their vehicles in winter weather when they drive too fast for conditions.
“Driving at the posted speed limit often will be too fast for conditions when there’s ice, snow and slick spots on roadways or when visibility is reduced by snow, sleet and fog, “says State Patrol Superintendent Stephen Fitzgerald. “The speed limit is set for safe driving on dry pavement with good visibility. You might not be able to stop or control your vehicle at the posted speed limit on a slippery road or during hazardous weather.”
Slowing down when driving conditions deteriorate is not just sound advice—it’s also the law. It is illegal to drive at speeds that exceed what is reasonable and prudent under existing road conditions. Drivers are required to adjust their speeds to take into account both the actual and potential hazards due to weather, highway conditions or other traffic.
A violation of this state law costs $213.10 with four demerit points added to the driver’s record. A second offense within a 12-month period costs $263.50 with four additional points.
“The slogan ‘Snow Means Slow’ also applies to four-wheel drive and other heavy-duty vehicles, which can still slide, skid and fish tail while trying to stop on slippery roads,” says Superintendent Fitzgerald. “If you drive too fast for conditions and slide off the road or crash, you likely will have to pay for an expensive traffic ticket plus towing and vehicle repair bills. It’s much cheaper, safer and certainly less frightening to maintain control of your vehicle by slowing down.”
Move Over Law: Drivers must provide a safety zone for stopped law enforcement and other emergency vehicles
During winter months, law enforcement officers, tow truck operators and emergency responders often must battle the elements while rescuing motorists and removing vehicles that have slid off icy roads or crashed. Although functioning in frigid conditions can be hazardous, the greatest danger to these workers is being hit by vehicles traveling at high speeds just a few feet away.
To create a safety zone for workers on the side of highways, Wisconsin’s Move Over Law requires drivers to shift lanes if possible or at least slow down when encountering a law enforcement vehicle, ambulance, fire truck, tow truck or highway maintenance vehicle that is stopped on the side of a road with its warning lights flashing.
“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 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.”
A citation for a Move Over Law violation costs $263.50 with three demerit points added to your license. But the greatest danger of a violation is not an expensive fine. In 2013, passing vehicles hit 10 State Patrol vehicles parked on the side of a roadway. In four of those crashes, the officers were inside their vehicles. There were many more near misses of officers. A recent dash cam video from a State Patrol cruiser shows a Move Over Law violation that came shockingly close to seriously injuring a trooper during a traffic stop. The video is available on the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s You Tube channel. (youtube.com/wisdot)
“Law enforcement officers are well trained and equipped to protect themselves. But they are at serious risk of being hit by passing vehicles nearly every time they stop or assist a motorist. Failure of drivers 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 serious injuries and deaths.”
Steve L. Olson, email@example.com
Last modified: December 2, 2014
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