Washington County Sheriff - Driving Articles


It is important to know the Wisconsin laws and road safety for each state we drive in. These articles will keep you and your family safe when in the family car. Top articles include driving safety tips, traffic violations and good driving motorist tips. For a list of all archived articles visit our Articles List.

Know the Law, Drive with Care


Bicycle Safety for Motorists

General rules

  • Ride at least three feet from the curb or parked vehicles or debris in curb area and in a straight line. Don't swerve in and out around parked vehicles.
  • Always ride in the same direction as traffic.
  • Sidewalk riding for bicyclists past the learning stage and being closely supervised by adults can be more dangerous than on the road, obeying traffic laws. It is also illegal unless the community has passed an ordinance specifically permitting sidewalk riding. This can be age-restricted, location-restricted or based on the type of property abutting the sidewalk.
  • Obey all traffic laws.
  • Be predictable! Let other users know where you intend to go and maintain an understood course.

Narrow lanes

  • Ride in the center of the lane.
  • Keep at least three feet between yourself and passing or parked traffic.

Wide lanes

  • Ride just to the right of the actual traffic line, not alongside the curb.
  • Keep at least three feet between yourself and the curb or from parked vehicles.  Motorists should be passing you with at least 3 feet of clearance.

Don't get the door prize!

  • Ride in a straight line three feet out from parked cars. You'll avoid car doors that open in front of you and you'll be more visible to other drivers.
  • Don't pull into the space between parked cars. Ride just to the right of the actual traffic line, not alongside the curb.
  • Ride straight, three feet from parked cars - don't get "doored"

Take the lane
You will fare better with other road users if you function like a legal vehicle operator, which you are. 

  • Right turning motorists can be a problem, but taking the lane or more of the right portion of the wide curb lane can prevent this. Take an adult bicycling course to learn skills and develop confidence in traffic. 
  • Left turning motorists are the cause of most adult bicyclists’ crashes. Motorists claim not to see the cyclist who is traveling in a straight path in the opposite direction. 

Bicyclists, when making your own left turn look over your left shoulder for traffic, signal your left turn and change lanes smoothly, so you are to the left side or center of the through lane by the time you reach the intersection.  If a left turn lane is present, make a lane change to center of that lane.  Do not move to left of that lane as left-turning motorists may cut you off.

  • Do not wait until you reach the crosswalk, then stop and try to ride from a stop across other traffic. If you need to cross as a pedestrian, leave the travel lanes, then get into the crosswalk, walking or riding your bicycle like a pedestrian travels, not fast, and with pedestrian signals.

Lane positioning can be especially important in approaching a downhill intersection. Moving to the center makes you more visible to intersecting and left turning motorists in opposing lanes.

  • Going downhill, your speed is likely to be closer to traffic speeds or posted speed limits. Hugging the curb when there are visual barriers increases your chance to be struck by a bigger vehicle, or of hitting a pedestrian or sidewalk riding bicyclist.
  • Take the lane, be seen and see other traffic better if you are close to traffic speeds

Motorist reminders

  • Bicycles are vehicles. They belong on the road.
  • Cyclists need room to get around potholes, sewer grates and other obstructions.
  • Leave at least three feet when passing bicycles, more room at higher speeds.
  • Change lanes to pass any bicycle traveling in a narrow lane.
  • Train yourself to scan for fast moving (it's hard to tell speed) bicycles and motorcycles in the opposing lane to you when turning left, and scan sidewalks and crosswalks for pedestrians and bicyclists using the sidewalk and crosswalk as a pedestrian. Always scan to your right side sidewalk before you leave a stop light or stop sign. And to the left and right side sidewalks when on a one-way street.


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Black Ice Tips

Black ice can be one of the most dangerous conditions on winter roads. It is almost invisible and can catch drivers off guard.  Black ice is clear and appears black because the dark asphalt surface underneath shows through. It can form on heavily congested highways from auto emissions, but other roads are susceptible including those in shaded areas, near lakes and rivers, in tunnels and on overpasses.
Drivers can increase safety by observing the following tips:

  • Be aware that black ice is almost invisible.
  • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and tunnels and in early morning when the air temperature is rising faster than the pavement temperature.
  • Never brake while driving on ice. Applying pressure to your brakes while on ice will cause a vehicle to skid. Brake only during your approach.
  • Keep your distance. The distance needed to stop on ice is twice as long as under normal driving circumstances. Keep at least a three-car distance from the vehicle directly in front of you.

Black ice is neutralized with salting and sanding. However, drivers should be aware that salt loses its effectiveness at about 15 degrees and colder. In temperatures below 15 degrees, WI/DOT uses either sand or de-icing liquids that are effective at lower temperatures.

Travelers in WI can get up-to-date information on road conditions, construction and weather reports from WI/DOT's 511 traveler information service. By phone, dial 511 or on the Internet at http://www.511wi.gov/Web/


article by: http://www.dot.state.mn.us/newsrels/03/01/21blackice.html

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Child Passenger Safety Laws

Child passenger restraint requirements vary based on age, weight and height. Often, this happens in three stages: infants use rear-facing infant seats; toddlers use forward facing child safety seats; and older children use booster seats.
Many laws require all children to ride in the rear seat whenever possible, and most states permit children over a particular age, height or weight to use an adult safety belt. First offense fines for not complying with a state's child passenger safety laws vary from $10 to $500. Some states also use driver's license points as an additional penalty for noncompliance.

  • All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands require child safety seats for infants and children fitting specific criteria.
  • 47 states and the District of Columbia require booster seats or other appropriate devices for children who have outgrown their child safety seats but are still too small to use an adult seat belt safely. The only states lacking booster seat laws are Arizona, Florida and South Dakota.
  • 6 states (California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York, Texas) have seat belt requirements for school buses.

The State of Wisconsin also has further laws on which way the infant seat must face depending on age of child and weight and height.
There is a $75 fine per incident per child in the vehicle that does not meet these requirements.
Contact the Washington County WI Health Department for information and free inspection.

Article written by ghsa.org



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Drunk Driving Laws

All states define driving with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at or above 0.08 percent as a crime, but specific laws and penalties vary substantially from state to state.

42 states, the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands have administrative license suspension (ALS) on the first offense. ALS allows law enforcement to confiscate a driver's license for a period of time if he fails a chemical test. Most of these states allow limited driving privileges (such as to/from work).

All states have some type of ignition interlock law, in which judges require all or some convicted drunk drivers to install interlocks in their cars to analyze their breath and disable the engine if alcohol is detected. 20 states* (and 4 California counties) have made ignition interlocks mandatory or highly incentivized for all convicted drunk drivers, even first-time offenders.
*We defer to our State Highway Safety Office members' interpretation of the law. Some groups may have a higher count.

Federal law mandates that states adopt open container and repeat offender laws meeting specific requirements. Otherwise, a portion of the state's surface transportation funding is transferred to the state DOT or State Highway Safety Office.

Alcohol exclusion laws allow insurance companies to deny payment for treatment of drunk drivers' injuries, but they have limited doctors' abilities to diagnose alcohol problems and recommend treatment. Some states have repealed such laws.

NOTE: GHSA does not compile any additional data on drunk driving laws other than what is presented here. For more information, consult the appropriate State Highway Safety Office.

Chart of each state's laws is located at: http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/laws/impaired_laws.html


Get Ready for Riding Season


  1. Be Ready: mind, body and bike

There are three ways riders should ready themselves for a ride. First, there is mental readiness. Are you ready to concentrate on riding? If you are angry or preoccupied by something, taking your bike out may not be the best idea. A proper attitude will not only make you safer but your spouse and co-workers are less likely to plot against you.

It goes without saying that drugs and alcohol should be avoided at all costs, but I'm going to say it anyway. Alcohol affects your judgment, reaction time, and balance, among other things. Loss of your control over these things can easily mean your bike will soon be lying on its side and dripping important fluids. You may even get a ride in the back of a squad car. Even simple cold and allergy medications can seriously impair your riding, making you sleepy or sluggish.  

Next, you must be physically prepared. Start with good protective gear. This means a good-fitting helmet, gloves, eye protection, jacket, long pants and sturdy boots or shoes. Wear gear that is designed for use on a motorcycle, not a beach or a fancy nightclub. The people you see wearing a helmet, a smile and not much else are not well protected. Likewise, folks in eight layers of leather, Kevlar, body armor, but no helmet are not well protected. It is a whole package, and you need to wear it every time. If it's too hot to wear protective clothing, it's too hot to ride, period.

Try not to choose all black gear. Sure, it looks cool, but bright colors will help you stand out in traffic.

Third, you must make sure that your bike is up for the job. This includes not only fixing the parts that break, but doing all the preventive maintenance that is so easy to skip: regular oil changes, properly adjusted controls, a properly adjusted chain and suspension, good tires, working turn signals, you get the idea.

2.   Know where you are
When it does come time to make an emergency maneuver, you need to know what's around you. In fact, this is good information to have at all times. Being aware of what is in your immediate space cushion will always help you guide your ride safely. Failure to be aware of your position in relation to those around you can cause dire consequences when faced with the need to make a quick lane change. Other vehicles have a nasty habit of sneaking in to places you can't see them, like the blind spots over your shoulders. Sometimes it's hard to imagine a mini-van disappearing, but it can happen. Once in that blind spot, you can find that a vehicle is easy to forget until you try to turn and find yourself mere inches from an enormous bumper and big tires. Pay special attention to what's in front of you, especially oncoming traffic. It's easy to disregard traffic traveling in the opposite direction but that is where the greatest threat lies. Be ready for the car that turns left in front of you.

3.  Keep a 2-4 Second Following Distance
Following too closely to the vehicle in front of you is arguably one of the greatest sins committed by most riders on a regular basis. When traveling on a highway, the minimum distance to keep between you and the vehicle in front of you is 2 seconds, but that is the bare minimum. A 2-second following distance is like buying the cheapest bullet-proof vest you can find: sure, it's protection, but if you really want to be safe, you'll upgrade. That upgrade would be to a 4-second following distance. Keep in mind two seconds is the distance needed on clear sunny days. At night or during inclement weather you need to increase your safety margin to four to eight seconds.

4.  Practice
The very best time to practice these habits is every time you go out for a ride. Spend at least a few minutes every ride concentrating on each of these habits and soon they will become second nature to you. Don't focus so hard on practicing that you lose sight of the job at hand. Instead, integrate practice into your normal riding routine.


Article taken in part from: http://www.transportation.wv.gov/dmv/msp/Pages/SafetyTips.aspx



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Road Rage

Driving can be a stressful experience, and all drivers have gotten frustrated behind the wheel at some point. But, it's important to avoid engaging in aggressive driving behaviors, such as speeding, running red lights, quick lane changing and failure to yield, especially as an aggressive driving act can trigger a disproportionate response, which sometimes even escalates into road rage, a criminal act of assault which may stem from a confrontation that occurred on the road.

The AAA Foundation's Aggressive Driving update found that aggressive driving behaviors are a factor in up to 56% of fatal crashes. Additionally, nearly 90% of drivers view aggressive driving as very serious or somewhat serious threat to their own safety.

Think you drive aggression-free? Take the AAA aggressive driving quiz and find out how hostile you are on the road.

Also here are a few tips from our Road Rage brochure on how to avoid aggressive driving.

Don't Offend

  • Avoid cutting drivers off and apologize if you do so
  • Avoid tailgating and honking the horn
  • Avoid making inappropriate or offensive gestures

Don't Engage

  • Steer clear of other aggressive drivers
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Seek help if you're being followed by driving to a safe/crowded location or by dialing 911

Adjust Your Attitude

  • Leave yourself enough time rather than trying to make good time
  • Put yourself in the other driver's shoes
  • Take a deep breath and remember escalating a situation will only make things worse.


Article by: AAA Foundation

State Motorcycle Laws


Wisconsin motorcycle laws are similar to most states, however it is important to know and understand them before you drive on WI Highways and streets.

Some of the laws are federal and apply to all states.

Only motorcycles certified by the federal government for highway operation are permitted on the highway.

Cycles cannot be attached to any other moving vehicle unless the cycle is being towed for repair.

No person may operate a motor vehicle in Wisconsin, including a motorcycle, unless the owner or operator of the vehicle has liability insurance in effect for the vehicle being operated and carries proof of insurance when driving.

Law enforcement may ask for proof of insurance at any traffic stop or accident.

Failure to have insurance could result in up to a $500 fine. Failure to have proof when requested could result in a $10 fine.

You do not need proof of insurance when registering a vehicle or obtaining a driver license, unless DMV specifically requested proof of financial responsibility (SR-22) after a revocation or suspension.

Refer to Section 344.61–34465 Wis. Stats. for full details.

  • Riding “side saddle” is forbidden.
  • A single passenger may ride upon the motorcycle if the passenger: rides on the seat designed for passengers, 
  • does not ride in front of the operator, and
  • rests his/her feet on standard equipment foot rests or pegs.
    (The passenger must be tall enough so his/her feet reach the pegs.)

More than one passenger may ride upon the motorcycle if the motorcycle is designed for more than one passenger. See the definition of a Type 1 motorcycle

Below are links to a chart for all continental U.S. states and also the WI. Motorcycle handbook.

Enjoy and be safe.

WI Motorcycle handbook (PDF)

U.S. Motorcycle Law Chart (PDF)


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Tips for Avoiding Deer Collisions

Here in Wisconsin you need to be aware that the deer population is leaving forested areas and coming into the cities.  For that reason we have gathered these tips from the Wisconsin Traffic Safety Report.

  • Be vigilant near dawn and dusk, the most active time for deer.
  • Heed deer crossing and speed limit signs.
  • Always wear your safety belt, it reduces your chance of being injured if you hit a deer.
  • If you see a deer by the side of the road, slow down and blow your horn with one long blast to frighten it away.
  • When you see one deer, look for another, they seldom run alone.
  • If a deer looms in your headlights, don’t expect it to move away.  Headlights can confuse a deer and cause it to freeze.
  • Brake firmly when you see a deer in or near your path.
  • Do not swerve.  It can confuse the deer, and it can cause you to lose control and hit a tree or another vehicle.
  • If you hit a deer, stay in your vehicle.  Do not get out and touch the animal.  An injured deer can hurt you or itself.
  • Walking or stopping on the highway is dangerous-you could get hit by an oncoming vehicle.
  • Get your car off the road if possible and call law enforcement.


Traffic Charges

In Wisconsin, receiving a traffic citation will include not only a fine, but demerit points.  If you receive more than 12 demerit points in one year, you could lose your driver’s license. 

When you are pulled over for a traffic offense you probably are hoping to get off with a warning. Unfortunately it is not always this easy. You may not have even realized that you were driving recklessly or that what you were doing was against the law.  Most traffic offenses in Wisconsin carry a fine and no jail time. Although a traffic citation will not give you a criminal record, it will affect your driving record and your ability to get affordable auto insurance.

Wisconsin Traffic Violation Facts

The fine you pay for your traffic violation could range from $25 to more than $500 depending on your violation.  There is a very wide range of traffic offenses in Wisconsin, each with its own specific fines and penalties.  Normal speeding tickets typically range from $30 to $300. Reckless driving, in most circumstances will carry a fine of $25 to $200.

Demerit Points
Points are assessed with every moving violation. The court sends notification of your charge to the Division of Motor Vehicles who tracks the driving records of all licensed Wisconsin residents.

If you accumulate more than 12 points in a year your license will be suspended for an absolute minimum of 2 months.

Some offenses mandate more than a 2 month suspension, OWI for example.

Attempting to elude an officer  = 6
Operating while revoked or suspended   = 3
Reckless driving or racing  = 6
Speeding 20 mph or more over limit =  6
Failure to yield right of way = 4
Speeding 11 through 19 mph over limit = 4
Driving wrong way on one way street =  3
Failure to give proper signal  =  3
Following too closely    = 3
Illegal passing =  3
Improper brakes or lights  =  3
Operating with expired license or
without any license    = 3

Ref: Wisconsin Statute 346

Reduction of Points
You can reduce 3 points off of your total by attending a traffic safety course. This can only be done once every three year period but may mean the difference between losing your license and maintaining your driving privileges.  Most traffic convictions stay on your driving record for 10 years.

Criminal Traffic Offenses
Some driving offenses, like driving on a suspended license, hit and run, and drunk driving are criminal charges.

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Work Zone Traffic Laws

Recognizing work zones

Major road construction that lasts for weeks and weeks. Emergency vehicles at the side of the road. A snowplow flashing its warning lights. The everyday garbage pickup. In Wisconsin, they’re all work zones.
Any time people are working in a street or highway near traffic, drivers and workers are at risk. Being able to identify the work zones up ahead can save lives. So learn the signs of a work zone: flashing lights, utility or emergency vehicles, orange signs, flags, barrels and cones. And, of course, people.

Driving in work zones

To protect themselves and others, drivers need to slow down whenever they see flashing lights, or move over, if possible, to leave the lane beside the work zone open. In some construction areas, lowered speed limits are posted and must be obeyed at all times.
Remember, when you enter a work zone, be patient. Worrying about the time and traffic won’t get you anywhere faster. Instead, slow down and pay attention to your surroundings. These tips can help you get in and out of a work zone safely:

  • Don’t fool around. Eliminate distractions like eating, drinking, talking on the phone, or fiddling with electronic devices.
  • Expect the unexpected. Speed limits may be reduced, traffic lanes may be changed, and people and vehicles may be working on or near the road.
  • Slow down. A car traveling 60 mph travels 88 feet per second, and the faster you go the longer it takes to stop.
  • Give yourself room. Rear-end collisions are the most common work zone crashes, so don’t tailgate.
  • Allow about three seconds of braking distance.
    Look for signs. Orange, diamond-shaped signs usually give you ample warning of lane closings, construction areas, and flaggers and other workers ahead.
  • Be patient. If you don’t see workers, that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Observe the signs until you see one that says you’ve left the work zone.
  • Plan ahead. Leave early or map out an alternate route. Find the latest road conditions and work zone news at http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/travel/driving-cond.htm.
  • Follow the law. Slow down and move over, if possible, when you see flashing lights.

Paying for Work Zone Carelessness

In Wisconsin, we take work zone safety seriously. The penalties for careless driving are steep.

  • It can cost you money
    A normal speeding ticket can be expensive, but that’s nothing compared to traffic violations made in the zone. In a work zone, penalties are doubled - and fines usually increase every year.
  • It can cost you time
    The consequences for injuring or killing someone in a work zone are especially serious. Careless drivers may face thousands of dollars in fines and up to 3 1/2 years in prison if they injure someone in a work zone. The fines for vehicular manslaughter are even higher, as are the prison terms - as many as 10 years. These punishments may increase if the driver was intoxicated or a repeat offender.
  • It can cost your life
    The greatest cost of irresponsible driving isn’t calculated in dollars or years. Wisconsin sees nearly 2,000 work zone crashes a year. Sometimes, people die. And those tragedies change the lives of everyone left behind - workers, drivers and passengers, family and friends.

The fact is, people who work along Wisconsin’s roads are extremely vulnerable. But not every crash in the zone involves workers. In reality, drivers and their passengers are the most common work zone fatalities.
Driving safely protects people on the road and the people in your own car. Driving safely protects you. So follow the rules, follow the law. And be safer in the zone.

Article from: http://www.dot.wisconsin.gov/safety/motorist/workzones/

Information and recommendations are compiled from sources believed to be reliable. The Sheriff’s Office  makes no guarantee as to and assumes no responsibility for the correctness, sufficiency or completeness of such information or recommendations. Other or additional safety measures may be required under particular circumstances.

Last Revised: 06/15

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