According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the number of people killed on state highways — 58 — was the most recorded in October for the past six years. While the article doesn’t note specific causes, the rise in vehicle-related deaths mirrors a trend noted by a recent article in Bloomberg. According to the authors, there has been a surge in motor vehicle deaths — in 2016 “more than 100 people died every day in or near vehicles” in the United States — that can’t be explained by drinking, speeding or driving longer distances. According to NHTSA, only 1.4 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2015 were linked to mobile phones, but the authors allege that distracted driving caused by mobile phone usage is under-reported and that other data indicate changing behaviors in mobile phone use could be indicative of a larger problem.

From 2014 – 16, 81 percent of Americans reported they own an iPhone, Android phone or something comparable. In addition, people increasingly use their phones to text and access social media — not just talk. According to the article, this type of mobile activity is far more distracting than simply talking on a phone while driving. In addition, they note that the increase in fatalities related to vehicular accidents involves the death of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists — people who are “easy to miss” when using a mobile phone while driving. Further, data from 2015 indicates that more than 50 percent of all fatal crashes occurred when someone was driving straight down a road — “no crossing traffic, rainstorms or blowouts.” Finally, according to the National Safety Council, “only about half of fatal crashes tied to known mobile phone use were coded as such in NHTSA databases.” One of the main challenges faced by NHTSA is that state data is compiled by local police and many law enforcement agencies don’t even have forms that contain a place for officers to indicate mobile-phone distraction. In addition, determining whether a driver was using a mobile phone while driving has become more complicated.

While we can’t state with absolute certainty the role distracted driving plays in traffic fatalities, it is important to note that Wisconsin has established laws concerning mobile phone use while driving.

  • Hand-held or hands-free cell phone use while driving is against the law for those with probationary licenses/instruction permits, except in the case of reporting an emergency.
  • Drivers cannot use a hand-held mobile device when driving through a construction zone, except in case of an emergency.
  • Texting while driving is against the law for all drivers.

The Department of Motor Vehicles has created a webpage concerning Apps to fight distracted driving. The webpage describes how the Apps work, offers tips on how to choose the best Distracted Driving App for your family and reviews Apps’ features including: sends parent notifications, blocks text messages, blocks calls, tracks safe miles driven, rewards safe driving and location sharing.

The Wisconsin Assembly Bill 463 seeks to broaden existing laws prohibiting cell phone use while driving. The bill would prohibit use of electronic devices while driving, including texting, emailing, entering/transmitting/entering data via an electronic device and would qualify these actions as “inattentive driving.” Exceptions would include using the device to report an emergency or for “verbal communication or navigation.”