A new Wisconsin law placing restrictions on new drivers’ use of cell phones behind the wheel took effect Thursday, meaning it is now illegal for those with instructional and probationary licenses to use a cellphone while driving unless they are in an emergency situation.

The law had bipartisan support when it was passed, with it passing unanimously in the Assembly Transportation Committee and passing by a 94-0 vote in the Assembly.

Rep. Kathleen Bernier, R-Chippewa Falls, authored the bill. In a statement after the Senate passed her bill, she quoted a statistic stating 63 percent of teens who die in the passenger seat of a vehicle are killed by other teenage drivers. Bernier said this was a large reason behind her support for the bill.

“The one statistic I can’t shake from my mind is that the number one threat to the life of a teenager in Wisconsin is a motor vehicle crash,” Bernier said. “You don’t have to drive often to know that cell phone use is terribly distracting, even for seasoned drivers. The graduated driver’s license is one of the few tools proven effective in reducing the risk of fatal car accidents and saving the lives of our young people.”

Bernier said in her statement since teenagers are still learning how to drive, they need to “put the phone down and focus on the road.”

Elise Schaffer, spokesperson for the Dane County Sheriff’s Office, said while this law is only focused on those with instructional or probationary licenses, every driver should pay more attention on the road.

“Let’s all give driving our full attention and make our roadways safer for everyone,” Schaffer said in a statement.

It is already illegal for all drivers in Wisconsin to text while driving.

In an email to The Badger Herald, Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, reinforced the need for laws which enforce stricter regulations on teens just learning to drive.

“Traffic crashes kill more teenagers in Wisconsin and the rest of the nation than any other cause of death,” Schultz said. “By enacting this law, we [joined] thirty one other states with similar provisions, banning the use of all cell phones by novice drivers.” 

If those with an instructional or probationary license are caught driving while using a cellphone in a non-emergency situation, they will receive a $50 fine, according to the bill. If they get more tickets, they will cost those drivers anywhere between $50-100.

Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, also said she supports the law and believes it is necessary in order to help reduce the number fatal car accidents in Wisconsin, especially those caused by teen drivers.

“What we know is that, particularly for teens, if they can focus on actually driving and not using their phones, the probability of decreasing accidents increases,” Taylor said. “It is a huge distraction; we’ve had a ton of accidents in this state because of texting. When you get the word out to new drivers that you really need to concentrate on the road, that’s a good thing.”

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