Wisconsin News

Law bans young driver cell phone use

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- The battle to cut down on distracted driving is now focusing on new drivers.

While it's been illegal to text and drive for a couple of years, now young drivers will not be allowed use a cell phone at all while driving.

The next generation of drivers has grown up using cell phones as part of their everyday life, which makes putting the phone down when getting in the car that much more of a challenge.

"They've become married to this technology and it's an extension of themselves so asking them to put it down is going to be difficult," said driving instructor Mark Strack.

But he said he's hopeful a new law banning cell phone use for young drivers will help a tech-savvy generation better navigate the roads.

"There's so many things going on with them -- other drivers, signs, operating the brake and the accelerator pedal -- that putting down the cellphone is one less distraction for them," said Strack.


The new law applies to anyone under the age of 18 who has an instruction permit or a probationary license from using a cellphone while driving.

First-time violators will face a fine of $20 to $40.

After that fines increase to $50 or $100.

Law enforcement said the new law will be easier for them to enforce than the current texting ban.

"Anytime we see a cell phone out we don't know if they're texting or dialing. With this new law for people under the age of 18, if we see the phone out we know they're in violation period," said La Crosse Police Sgt. Jon Wenger. "The law will be a very valuable tool for law enforcement to help curb distracted driving accidents and crashes that happen in the area."

Strack said he thinks it will help young drivers make a successful transition from the back seat to behind the wheel.

"It's like a complicated machine to which we've added a lot of electronics. Kids are eating, drinking, having entertainment in the car. We've let them watch movies sitting in the back seat and now they're in front and we expect a lot out of them so I believe it will help in the the long run if we enforce it right," he said.

The law only applies to the first nine months of a driver's probationary license.

The bill passed unanimously in both the State Assembly and the Senate.

Gov. Walker signed it into law Thursday.

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