Construction Zones and Phone Usage           

Wisconsin passed a law late last year that made it illegal to use your cell phone while driving through construction zones.  As the summer construction season winds down, here’s a breakdown of the law and exceptions that apply to it:

Only Hands-Free in Construction Zones Allowed

The statute falls under the heading of inattentive driving.  Found specifically in Wis. Stat. Section 346.89, it law states:

“No person may drive any motor vehicle while using a cellular phone, including using the telephone for a purpose other than communication, where persons engaged in work in a highway maintenance or construction area or in a utility work area are at risk from traffic, except to report an emergency. This subsection does not apply to 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.”

Let’s break that down.  First, this applies only to the driver of the vehicle.  Second, it prohibits using your phone in the traditional manner, but also for non-communication purposes.  An example would be using your phone as a GPS device.  Third, you are allowed to use the phone to report an emergency.  And finally, it only applies to the use of the phone in your hands.  For example, a hands-free device operated through Bluetooth is still legal.

So what constitutes a construction zone?   A construction zone is defined in Wis. Stat. Sec. 340.01(22e) as “the entire section of roadway between the first advance warning sign of highway maintenance or construction work and an “END ROAD WORK” or “END CONSTRUCTION” sign or, in the case of a moving vehicle engaged in the maintenance or construction work, that section of roadway where traffic may return to its normal flow without impeding such work.”

When you look at the actual language of the statute, the law seems to only apply when workers are present.  Best practice would be to not use your phone whenever you are driving in a construction zone.  But an argument could be made that the statute doesn’t apply if highway workers are not present.

If you are cited with inattentive driving under this section, you face a fine between $20-$40 for your first offense and between $50-$100 for your second or subsequent conviction within a year.

Have you been cited for using your cell phone in a construction zone?

As always, if you are facing any criminal or municipal charges, give us a call to discuss your case.  One of our skilled criminal defense attorneys will be more than willing to discuss your case and possible outcomes with you.  Some individuals may see a citation as just “a ticket.” But demerit points, the fact of the conviction, and a monetary forfeiture will impact your driving record and could cause your insurance rates to increase.  Our Milwaukee defense attorneys defend cases just like this throughout Wisconsin.