Most of us have seen campaigns against distracted driving, whether on billboards, radio broadcastings, or TV commercials. This year AT&T ran several commercials detailing the stories of distracted drivers or of their family members and how they are coping with the consequences of the driver’s actions. The commercials were very sad and somber.
However, despite these types of campaigns and state laws that outright ban cell phone use while driving or particular types of cell phone usage such as texting, it is all too easy to spot other drivers more preoccupied by whatever activity they are doing on their cell phone than driving. Social media and the hundreds of cell phone applications available only add to the temptation of multi-tasking while driving. For example, such temptations as tweeting, posting a picture on Facebook, or joining the “latest” craze and video blog (vlog) exclusively present themselves to today’s drivers. Vine and Instagram allow users to upload short videos to capture the user’s thoughts/moments in life, and many users seem to enjoy showing their followers whatever is happening on the road or in the car while the driver continues to drive.
Wisconsin Stat § 346.89 prohibits inattentive driving. Section one states, “No person while driving a motor vehicle shall be so engaged or occupied as to interfere with the safe driving of such vehicle.” Section three of the statute bans drivers from composing or sending texts and emails; however, the law does not appear to prohibit looking at messages or other activities as long as the activity does not cause the driver to violate section one. Last year the legislature added a fourth section that prohibits all cell phone usage for drivers with probationary licenses unless the device is used to report an emergency. This addition primarily targets teenagers but it affects anyone with a probationary license. While Wisconsin permits cell phone usage for drivers with a regular operating license, § 346.89 (1) covers vlogging and other activities to the extent that the driver is so occupied that it interferes with driving. As such, a vlogger could potentially get around being inattentive by using voice commands to do the recording and positioning the phone in a way where the vlogger does not have to hold the phone while its recording.
However, a driver caught violating the statute is subject to the following:
346.89(1) Inattentive driving: Fine of $20 to $400 and four point demerit
346.89(3)(a) Texting & driving: Fine of $20 to $400 and four point demerit
346.89(4) Probationary license: Fine $20-$40 for the first offense, and $50 -$100 for subsequent convictions within a year
See Wis. Stat. § 346.95; Wis. Admin. Code Trans § 101.02(2)(h).
In my opinion, the prohibition against cell phone use should be more specific so in certain situations crafty drivers cannot continue cell phone activities. Further, the base penalty should be raised to at least $100 as a minimum amount to be more effective as a deterrent. I think the statute should be expanded to include a prohibition of all cell phone usage (handheld and hands-free) by all drivers in school zones and highway construction zones as is done in other states. These areas are important for obvious reasons and should be specifically covered by the statute. Although these small changes might not stop the 21st century driver from the addictions of cell phone usage while driving, it is good public policy to have stricter cell phone usage laws. While I am not advocating a ban on the ability to make calls while driving, I am definitely against vlogging while driving.