For far too long drunk driving has been the scourge of Wisconsin roadways. We lead the nation in that awful and deadly behavior.
But now there’s a new addiction that threatens to rival drunk driving. It’s called distracted driving and, in reality, it’s about one mighty distraction: cell phones. According to the Wisconsin DOT distracted driving killed 121 people on our roadways last year and it accounted for an astounding 11,000 injuries.
Under current Wisconsin law it is, in fact, illegal to drive while texting. But, of course, texting is just one thing you can do with a cell phone.
So a new bill, sponsored by state Rep. Ron Tusler (R-Harrison), Rep. Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls) and state Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), would prohibit drivers from using smartphones to “enter, transmit, or access data” while driving.
In other words, the bill would block activities like using Twitter or surfing the web while driving as well as other phone activities that have yet to catch on.
And it increases penalties for texting and the other activities that would now be covered under the bill from as little as $20 under current law to as much as $400 under this legislation.
The Bike Fed strongly supports this measure. When a driver is distracted and drifts onto a shoulder, who might be there? A cyclist. When a driver is surfing the web and he fails to stop at an urban intersection, who might be in front of him? A cyclist. The kind of behavior that might result in fender benders with other motor vehicles can result in serious injury or death for bicyclists.
In a story on the bill in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sen. Wanggaard is quoted as saying, “When you put that key in the ignition, you…exercise the power of life and death over everybody you come in contact with. Think about that.”
Sen. Wanggaard is as right as could be. We will work to get this bill passed, but even if it falls short this session, his bill is getting people to think about that.