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Eau Claire (WQOW)- A new law takes effect this week aimed at making the roads safer by limiting distracted driving.
"Once these kids are in the car, they're on their own," says Garry Sherwood, who works as a driving instructor at Accountable Driver Education in Eau Claire.
Starting Thursday, the Wisconsin State Patrol will begin enforcing a new state law that prohibits young drivers with permits and probationary licenses from using cell phones while behind the wheel, except to report an emergency.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 11 percent of teen drivers in fatal crashes were distracted at the time of the crash. That number is the most among any age group. But enforcing the new law will be difficult because police will have to play a guessing game after they spot someone using their phone.
"It's so hard for the police to look at somebody and say are you 15 or 16? Do you have your probationary license or not?" points out Sherwood.
He says teen cell phone use is getting worse.
"I had one the other night. She was using cell phone. I look down. She was texting in class and I said put it away and she says I'm addicted to this thing," Sherwood remembers.
"I came out on 53 and Main Street and I watched a young driver texting and it was very evident. They sat through a green light. They kept wandering in their lane. So as I drove along side of them, I could see with the thumbs up there, the phone on the steering wheel just texting away," responds Lieutenant Jeff Lorentz with the Wisconsin State Patrol.
Sherwood says his advice to parents is simple.
"I think it would be a better idea if parents bought an app for their cell phones for their kids, which is available, which disables the phone when the car is moving," Sherwood points out.
The Wisconsin State Patrol says to be safe, turn off your phone or switch to a silent mode, use voice mail to tell callers you're driving and will get back to them. If you really need to use the phone, pull over to a safe area; or better yet, ask a passenger to make a call or text for you.
"It used to be a simple phone before," Lorentz remembers. "Now it's really taking up things and really a distraction. So I think anything we can do to help a probationary driver going that direction is really going to help us hopefully to prevent any fatalities and certainly injuries as well."
While the law will apply to many teens, others will be affected. For example, drivers from other countries or new state residents under the age of 21 will also have to follow the new law. First-time violators will pay a fine between $20 and $40.
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