A new Wisconsin law comes into place on Saturday, October 1, making it illegal to talk on a hand-held mobile device while driving through a work zone.

“Holding a phone up to the ear takes precious attention away from the road,” says David Pabst, director of the WisDOT Bureau of Transportation Safety. “In a work zone, there are narrow, shifting lanes and there is a lot of activity occurring in a condensed space. It’s vitally important that drivers stay focused and alert at all times.”

Drivers face fines of up to $40 for a first offense and up to $100 for subsequent offenses. The law applies to anyone operating a motor vehicle within a work zone, including commercial drivers and workers. There’s a simple rule to ensure compliance with the law: “See orange cones? Put down the phones!”

Mobile device use continues to be a leading cause of distracted driving. Texting while driving is already illegal in Wisconsin. The hand-held device law builds on efforts to enhance safety by creating an additional tool to curtail inattentive driving.

From 2011 to 2015, 47 people were killed and 3,592 injured in a total of 9,664 crashes in Wisconsin work zones. Year over year, the figures have shown steady growth. In 2011, there were seven fatalities and 750 injuries resulting from 1,708 work zone crashes. In 2015, there were 13 fatalities and 645 injuries resulting from 2,411 work zone crashes. Motorists and passengers suffer the vast majority of injuries and deaths.

“Distracted driving kills indiscriminately, but each of us has the opportunity to do the right thing for safety out on the road,” says Pabst. “The more we work to eliminate distractions and focus on driving, the safer each of us will be.”

There is an exemption granted in the event a motorist must use a hand-held mobile device to call 911. Bluetooth and hands-free devices remain legal to use while driving through a work zone, but drivers are encouraged to refrain from phone calls altogether to give undivided attention to the road.

“A lot can happen–fast–out on the highway,” says Pabst. “A vehicle traveling 55 mph covers the length of a football field in less than five seconds.”

WisDOT recommends:

  • Consider turning off the phone until you reach your destination.
  • During a long drive, consider leaving a voice mail explaining how long you’ll be unavailable.
  • If you have to make a call, find a secure place to pull over and stop, such as a wayside or a gas station.