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New rules of road begin this month

June 09, 2010 | 07:43 AM
As the old adage goes, there are two seasons in Wisconsin: winter and road construction. Each summer, Wisconsin's roads and highways are dotted with the familiar orange barrels, detour signs, and of course, men and women working the hot summer months making much-needed repairs and improvements. This is a good opportunity to remind motorists of the current rules of the road regarding construction, as well as provide an update of some of the new laws starting this summer.

Whether it's a major infrastructure project or a minor pothole fill, it makes sense to plan ahead by checking on construction, which may alter your travel plans. The Department of Transportation has a Web site dedicated to construction projects near your home or on your travel route. You may visit: www.511wi.gov or simply dial 511 on your phone (airtime free); of course, if your route includes road work areas, you may want to consider either taking an alternate route or allowing for extra time through the construction zone.

While driving in work zones, the DOT has several suggestions for safe and easy travel, including avoiding peak travel hours, watching for special instructions from a flag person or on special electronic message boards, slowing down and merging as early as possible when approaching a work zone, leaving plenty of room for surprise slow-downs of vehicles in front of you, and being alert to narrow lanes and uneven pavement. Remember, the fines for traffic violations in a road work area are doubled, but only when a crew is on site.

As you head out this summer, you'll also need to keep in mind a few changes to state law as they relate to operating a vehicle. First, Wisconsin now has a primary seatbelt enforcement law, which means you could be stopped and cited by law enforcement simply for not wearing a seatbelt. Previously, a citation could only be issued if you were pulled over for another traffic infraction, however, the new law changes that. According to the DOT, Wisconsin's safety belt use rate is approximately 74 percent, one of the lowest in the nation. While some believe this does not constitute a traffic violation, supporters of the new primary seat belt enforcement law feel it is necessary in order to raise that ranking and educate drivers young and old of the need to buckle up.

Second, beginning this month, drivers in Wisconsin are required to carry proof of automobile insurance coverage, as well as have new minimum amounts of liability coverage. The changes were made in the 2009-10 state budget, which require drivers to have a policy with minimum limits of $15,000 for property damage, $50,000 for the injury or death of one person, and $100,000 for the injury or death of more than one person. Previous amounts were $10,000, $25,000 and $50,000 respectively. Under the new law, motorists could be cited by law enforcement for not being able to produce proof of insurance, which could lead to a fine up to $500. While you can not be stopped solely for the purpose of checking your insurance coverage status, this citation authority now exists if you are pulled over for any other reason.

Finally, a new law specifically targeting text messaging will become effective later this year, even though laws against inattentive driving are already in place. The new law will expressly prohibit sending or reading text messages while driving and come with fines and forfeitures similar to those of the current inattentive driving law. While the law may be redundant and perhaps difficult to enforce, I believe most would agree texting while driving is an unsafe behavior that may be increasing in frequency.

Summer travel in Wisconsin is vital to our state's economy and local communities. I hope you and your family take advantage of the many tourism destinations Wisconsin has to offer, and stay safe during your travels. If you would like more information, you may visit the Wisconsin Department of Tourism Web site www.travelwisconsin.com or contact my office at anytime. Enjoy your summer.

Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI, 53707-7882 or by calling toll-free (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or on-line at www.senatorkedzie.com.

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Walworth County