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Automobile Collisions / Workers' Compensation

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Distracted driving: a dangerous choice in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation advises drivers not to allow distractions while they are on the road. Common sense dictates that's a good idea. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows, however, that in 2008, nearly 6,000 people died and more than 500,000 were injured across the United States in car accidents involving a distracted driver. Wisconsin lawmakers put forth an effort to curb that trend, passing regulations in 2010. The state law prohibits drivers from being so occupied or otherwise engaged that it interferes with safe driving.

It's common these days to see commuters breakfasting, drivers grooming in the rearview mirror or using a cellphone while driving. Modern technological marvels make it easier for drivers to communicate with home, friends, employers and customers while driving. The other side of that coin is distractions that may have been momentary at one time have become ongoing for the duration of the drive.

Most recently, Wisconsin officials have addressed texting while driving. State law now prohibits driving a motor vehicle while writing or sending an electronic text message or e-mail. To underscore the serious effort at accident reduction, this law is known as a primary enforcement law. This means police are allowed to stop a person suspected of violating the law for this reason alone. The texting while driving ban applies to all drivers.

On Nov. 1, 2012, an additional ban passed that makes it illegal for a novice driver to use a cellphone at all while driving. Wisconsin law defines a novice driver as one with a learner's permit or intermediate license. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, there are additional bans under consideration, including one relating to viewing video images. But officials are skeptical that additional laws will pass soon based on objections from the automobile companies.

Penalties for infractions run the gamut from a $20 fine for first-time offenders to $400 and 4 points for repeat lawbreakers. But for those who are at-fault drivers in an accident, the penalties may be life-changing. Victims who are injured are entitled to seek compensation for their physical and property losses. In increasing numbers, accident investigations are revealing that distracted driving played a role, and a citation on record to that effect can strengthen the victim's position for recovery.

Source: Wisconsin Department of Transportation, "Dangers of distracted driving" Oct. 03, 2014

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