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New law that prohibits cell phone use for many teen drivers takes effect on November 1, 2012

A new state law that prohibits drivers with an instruction permit or probationary license—which includes many teenagers--from "using a cellular or other wireless telephone except to report an emergency" while driving takes effect on November 1. A driver violating this restriction on cell phone use is subject to a forfeiture of $20 to $40 for a first offense and $50 to $100 for a subsequent offense within a year.

"We hope that the new law will deter teenagers and other inexperienced drivers from using their cell phone while behind the wheel, which can be a dangerous distraction," says Wisconsin State Patrol Major Sandra Huxtable, director of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's Bureau of Transportation Safety. "In a national study, 43 percent of 16 and 17-year-olds said they have talked on a cell phone while driving, and 40 percent of teens up to age 17 said they have been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put themselves or others in danger."

According to Major Huxtable, cell phone use can distract a driver's attention from traffic and road conditions. "Distracted driving is a problem even for experienced drivers. But it often is even more hazardous for teen drivers who are not experienced," she says. "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."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 11 percent of all drivers under the age of 20 involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time of the crash. This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted.

Although the law will affect many teen drivers, the cell phone restrictions also apply to other drivers with a Wisconsin probationary license, such as:

Wisconsin law also prohibits texting while driving for all motorists of all ages. To prevent distractions from cell phone use and texting while driving, the State Patrol advises all drivers to:

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 Major Huxtable.

"Every time you drive, you are legally and morally responsible for safely operating a potentially destructive—and even deadly—force," she 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."

For more information, contact:
State Patrol Major Sandra Huxtable, WisDOT Bureau of Transportation Safety
(608) 266-3048,

Fact Sheet—2011 Wisconsin Act 164:

Effective date: November 1, 2012
Enactment date: March 29, 2012

What is the law? 2011 Wisconsin Act 164 expands the state statute that prohibits inattentive driving by adding a subsection that stipulates: No person who holds a probationary license or an instruction permit  may drive any motor vehicle while using a cellular or other wireless telephone except to report an emergency. Any person violating this law may be required to forfeit not less than $20 nor more than $40 for the first offense and not less than $50 nor more than $100 for the second or subsequent conviction within a year.

As of September 2012, a total of 32 states and the District of Columbia ban all cell phone use by novice drivers, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Who is affected by this law? The prohibition against cell phone use affects drivers with an instruction permit or probationary license—regardless of age. It is not solely a ban on cell phone use by teen drivers.

An instruction permit is often called a learner's permit or a "temp." Anyone learning to drive must first obtain an instruction permit. Persons are eligible for an instruction permit at age 15-1/2. After passing a written knowledge test, they use the instruction permit to practice behind the wheel driving skills under the supervision of an adult driver.

A probationary license generally may be issued to persons who are at least 16-years-old and have held an instruction permit for six months. If under age 18, they also need to complete a driver education course, accumulate at least 30 hours of supervised driving experience with an adult sponsor and pass a road skills test. Probationary licenses expire two years from the applicant's next birthday. For example, drivers who are 16-years-old on the date they obtain a probationary license will be eligible for a regular license on their 19th birthday. In addition to new drivers, probationary licenses are required for the following:


346.89 Inattentive driving.

346.89(1) (1) No person while driving a motor vehicle shall be so engaged or occupied as to interfere with the safe driving of such vehicle.

346.89(2) (2) No person shall drive any motor vehicle equipped with any device for visually receiving a television broadcast when such device is located in the motor vehicle at any point forward of the back of the operator's seat or when such device is visible to the operator while driving the motor vehicle.

346.89(3) (3)

346.89(3)(a)(a) No person may drive, as defined in s. 343.305 (1) (b), any motor vehicle while composing or sending an electronic text message or an electronic mail message.

346.89(3)(b) (b) This subsection does not apply to any of the following:

346.89(3)(b)1. 1. The operator of an authorized emergency vehicle.

346.89(3)(b)2. 2. The use of any device whose primary function is transmitting and receiving emergency alert messages and messages related to the operation of the vehicle or an accessory that is integrated into the electrical system of a vehicle, including a global positioning system device.

346.89(3)(b)3. 3. An amateur radio operator who holds a valid amateur radio operator's license issued by the federal communications commission when he or she is using dedicated amateur radio 2-way radio communication equipment and observing proper amateur radio operating procedures.

346.89(3)(b)4. 4. The use of a voice-operated or hands-free device if the driver of the motor vehicle does not use his or her hands to operate the device, except to activate or deactivate a feature or function of the device.

346.89(4) (4) Subject to sub. (3), no person who holds a probationary license issued under s. 343.085, or an instruction permit issued under s. 343.07, may drive, as defined in s. 343.305 (1) (b), any motor vehicle while using a cellular or other wireless telephone, except to report an emergency.

Updated October 6, 2014

Here is a safety message from Verizon about the dangers of Texting & Driving