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Bill would ban cellphone usage in construction zones

By Margo Spann, mspann@wisctv.com
Published On: Jan 13 2014 08:12:33 PM CST

Margo Spann

JANESVILLE, Wis. -

Wisconsin is still quite a few weeks from spring but some legislators are already thinking of ways to make construction zones safer.

State lawmakers are considering banning cellphones while driving through a construction zone.

News 3 caught up with some drivers at a truck stop in Janesville.

"I try not to talk on my phone while I'm driving but sometimes I do, usually not in a construction zone," Janesville resident Lyla Fell said.

Devin Hammer from Illinois said he doesn't have a smartphone so there isn't much to distract him when he's behind the wheel. He said people tend to speed through work zones.

"If there's not a lot of people there, no one's working, it's not that hectic, people don't seem as concerned," Hammer said.

It's that lack of concern that has some lawmakers trying to improve safety in construction zones.

Texting and driving is already illegal in Wisconsin but Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, is proposing a new bill that would ban drivers from talking on the phone in work zones.

"Any distraction, no matter how small, it is going to be a hazard to the construction workers and the motoring public as a whole," said trooper Kevin Kinderman with the Wisconsin State Patrol.

Kinderman said distracted driving is a huge problem, so they set up extra patrols in construction zones.

For the next seven years the interstate is scheduled to undergo a major expansion -- moving from four lanes to six in Dane and Rock counties.

Even with slower speeds in work zones, Kinderman said there's still a higher possibility of crashes.

"With the narrow lanes and the workers, at 55 or 65 mph it only takes a second for a distracted driver using a phone to cause a property damage crash, an injury crash or even worse, a fatal crash," Kinderman said.

Fell said drivers should know to slow down.

"You should be cautious and watch what you're doing and probably make sure you're going slow enough," Fell said.

The bill makes an exception for drivers using a hands-free device in their vehicle -- they would be allowed to talk on the phone in a construction zone. The bill proposes a fine of $20 for drivers caught using a cellphone in a construction zone. That fine jumps to $50 for a second offense in less than a year.

The Senate's Transportation and Public Safety Committee is holding a public hearing Wednesday at 1 p.m. to discuss the bill.

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