If you’ve been injured in a car accident in the State of Wisconsin, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage and/or personal injury claim. In this article, we’ll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents. To read the entirety of each law, click the link to the specific State of Wisconsin statutes in each section.
Here are the Wisconsin car accident and traffic laws we’ll cover:
Pedestrians and Crosswalks
Restrictions on Pedestrians Crossing Roadways
No pedestrian is allowed to suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is difficult for the driver of the vehicle to yield.
Pedestrian Control Signals
Whenever special pedestrian control signals exhibiting the words “Walk” or “Don’t Walk” are in place such signals shall indicate as follows:
- Walk. Pedestrians facing such signal may proceed across the roadway in the direction of the signal and shall be given the right of way by the drivers of all vehicles.
- Don’t Walk. No pedestrian shall start to cross the roadway in the direction of such signal, whether flashing or steady. Any pedestrian who has partially completed the pedestrian’s crossing on the Walk signal shall complete the crossing to a sidewalk or safety island while the Don’t Walk signal is showing.
Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks
Pedestrians intending to cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway.
Pedestrians on Roadway
Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians are permitted to walk only on or along the left side of the highway, and upon meeting a vehicle must, if possible, move to the extreme outer limit of the traveled portion of the highway.
Pedestrians’ Right of Way on Sidewalks
The driver of a vehicle crossing a sidewalk or entering an alley or driveway from a highway must yield the right of way to any pedestrian on the sidewalk or in the alley or driveway.
Obedience to Traffic Control Devices
A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver, unless directed by a traffic or police officer.
Driving on Right Side of Roadway
Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways and in the right -hand lane of a three-lane highway with the following exceptions:
- When making an approach for a left turn or a U-turn
- When passing another driver in the same direction
- When there is an obstruction in the right lane
- When driving in a particular lane in accordance with signs or markers
- Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic
- When the vehicle is a wider than one lane and is used for husbandry
Passing On the Left
Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at at a safe distance and must remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane. Drivers being passed must not increase the speed of their vehicle until their vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking car.
Limitations on Overtaking on the Left
Drivers may drive to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle only if the left side is clearly visible.
The driver of a vehicle must not drive on the left side of the center of the roadway upon any part of a grade or upon a curve in the roadway where the driver’s view is obstructed for such a distance as to create a hazard in the event another vehicle might approach from the opposite direction.
Passing On the Right
Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:
- When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn or a U-turn.
- When the roadway has two (2) or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
- On a one-way street where the roadway is free from obstructions and wide enough for two (2) or more lines of moving vehicles.
Following Too Closely
A driver must not follow another driver more closely than is “reasonable and prudent”, having due regard for the speed of other drivers and traffic conditions along the roadway.
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices
No person is allowed to drive and be occupied with an activity that interferes or reasonably appears to interfere with the person’s ability to drive the vehicle safely, including composing or sending text messages or emails.
Drivers are permitted to use hands-free devices and to contact emergency services.
Drivers and Intersections
When two (2) drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver in the right.
Drivers Intending to Turn Left at Intersections
A driver who intends to turn left or make a U-turn at an intersection, or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield the right of way to drivers approaching from the opposite direction.
Drivers Entering or Crossing a Roadway
A driver about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway must yield the right of way to all other drivers, cyclists, or riders of electric personal assistive mobility devices on the roadway to be crossed.
Bicyclists must obey each traffic signal or sign facing a roadway which runs parallel and adjacent to a bicycle way.
Motorcyclists and Lanes of Traffic
Motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of a traffic lane and drivers must not take any action to deprive a motorcyclist of his or her right to use a full lane on a roadway. A motorcyclist must not pass another driver in the same lane. Motorcyclists must not ride more than two (2) abreast in a single lane.
Department of Transportation Motorcycling Guide
Motorcyclists must not pass another driver in the same lane. Commonly known as “lane splitting,” motorcyclists sometimes attempt to pass other drivers when traffic is slowed, or bumper to bumper. To move forward through traffic motorcyclists sometimes drive between cars. Doing so is not only illegal, but quite dangerous.
Department of Transportation Motorcycling Guide
All motorcyclists who hold an instructional permit or who are under 18 years of age must wear helmets while riding on roadways. All motorcyclists must also wear protective eyewear while riding on roadways.
Motorcycles and Headlights
During hours of darkness, every motorcycle riding on a roadway must have at least one and not more than two lighted headlights turned on.
Driving Offenses and Accident Requirements
A driver who endangers the safety of any person or property by the negligent operation of a vehicle is guilty of reckless driving, and can be fined and imprisoned.
Alcohol and Minors
A driver under the age of twenty one (21) must not drive upon any roadway after drinking any measurable amount of alcohol.
No underage person may knowingly possess or transport an alcohol beverage in any motor vehicle unless the person has this beverage in a vehicle in the course of their employment.
Driver’s Duty to Give Information and Render Aid
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to any person or damage to a vehicle must give their name, address and the registration number of the car they are driving and must upon request, exhibit their driver’s license to any person injured in the accident, or to the driver, passengers of the other vehicle.
Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including making of arrangements to transfer the injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent medical treatment is required.
Accidents Involving Death, Personal Injury, or Substantial Bodily Injury
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death of any person must immediately stop and remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has given their name, address and the registration number of the car they are driving, and upon request exhibited their driver’s license to any person injured in the accident or to the driver and passengers of the car involved in the accident.
Accidents Involving Only Damage to Another Car or Property
A driver involved in an accident resulting only in damage to property or another car which is driven or attended by any person must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has given their name, address and the registration number of the car they are driving, and upon request exhibited their driver’s license to the driver and passengers of the car involved in the accident.
Accidents Involving Damage to Unattended Car or Unattended Property
A driver who collides with a parked car or who collides with other property which is unattended must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must attempt to locate and notify the driver or owner of the damaged car or damaged property.
Once located, the driver who caused the accident must give their name and address and the name and address of the owner of the car that caused the accident.
If the driver or owner of the damaged car or property cannot be located, the driver who caused the accident must attach a written note to the damaged property in a conspicuous place giving their name and address and the name and address of the owner of the car that caused the accident.
Driver’s Duty to Notify Police Department
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or any damage to government-owned property (except government-owned vehicles) to an apparent extent of $200 or more, or total damage to a government-owned vehicle or to property owned by a person to an apparent extent of $1,000 or more must immediately by the quickest means of communication give notice to the nearest police office.
Accident Reports Filed By Police Departments
Every law enforcement agency investigating or receiving a report of a traffic accident must forward an original written report of the accident or a report of the accident in an automated format to the department within 10 days after the date of the accident.
Accident Report Forms
The department must prepare and supply to police departments, coroners, sheriffs and other suitable agencies or individuals, forms or an automated format for accident reports required to be made to the department.
Any report forms and automated format must call for sufficiently detailed information about the cause, conditions then existing, and the persons and vehicles involved in a car accident.
Open Alcohol Container Law
A driver or passenger must not be in possession of an opened container of an alcoholic beverage or consume a controlled substance while the car is on Wisconsin roadways.
An opened alcoholic beverage container can be kept only in the trunk of a vehicle or in an area not normally occupied by a person. It cannot be kept in the utility or glove compartment.
Passengers of a hired vehicle can consume and possess an opened container if there is a barrier that prevents passengers from passing containers to the driver.
Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance
A driver must not drive after drinking an alcoholic beverage or consuming an intoxicant in an amount which renders the driver incapable of driving safely along roadways.
In Wisconsin, a driver is guilty of the offense of Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of an Intoxicant if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.08% or higher.
Ignition Interlock Device
A driver who is guilty of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant might be order to have installed at his or her own expenses an ignition interlock device. The ignition interlock device will serve to restore the driver’s driving privileges during the pendency of the driver’s probation. If an ignition device is installed, it must be installed in every car owned or operated by the driver.
An ignition interlock is a device which measures any amount of alcohol contained in a driver’s body. Before starting the car the driver must blow into a tube emanating from the ignition interlock device.
If the device then detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than is permitted by law the car will not start and the violation will be reported to the prosecutor, the probation officer, and/or the judge. At that point the driver may be subject to loss of driving privileges, immediate arrest and incarceration up to the maximum term provided by law.
Wisconsin Dram Shop Law
Wisconsin has a modified Dram Shop Law. Dram Shop Law refers to the liability of private social hosts, bars, hotels nightclubs and other commercial establishments who serve alcohol to patrons or to minors for injuries intoxicated patrons or minors cause to third parties such as in car accidents.
A private social host is the host at a private party, such as a wedding reception, a corporate sponsored event, a gathering of friends at a private residence, where alcohol is served not for profit.
Under Wisconsin law, a person who serves or sells alcohol is not liable for the actions of the person who drinks the alcohol and causes injury or property damage. The exception to this law is when a person sells or serves alcohol to someone they knew or should have known was under legal drinking age and the minor causes injury or property damage.
Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits
In the State of Wisconsin, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:
- At least $25,000 per person
- At least $50,000 for two or more people
- $10,000 per occurrence for property damage
Wisconsin Insurance Information
For insurance requirements, see the Government of Wisconsin Auto Insurance FAQ.
Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)
In Wisconsin, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim’s liability in causing the accident, their comparative negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives.
If the victim contributed less than 51% of the negligence that caused the accident, then their compensation is reduced by the amount they contributed to the accident.
If the victim contributed 51% or more of the negligence that caused the accident, then the victim is barred from receiving any compensation.
Example of Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)
One morning, Jackson was driving north on his way to work. At an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane. At the same time, Melanie approached the intersection from the opposite direction. Suddenly, Jackson turned left into Melanie’s lane and their cars collided.
Melanie sustained serious brain injuries and damage to her car, totalling in $100,000 dollars worth of damages.
After their investigation, the police determined that Jackson had failed to yield according to traffic laws. A pedestrian witness told police he saw Melanie texting at the time Jackson’s car crashed into Melanie’s. As a result, the police issued Melanie a citation for using a mobile device while driving.
Melanie sued Jackson for $100,000 and claimed he was 100% at fault for the accident because he did not yield to her right-of-way. At trial, the jury found Jackson liable for failing to yield the right-of-way. However, the jury also found Melissa liable for using a mobile device while driving and partially responsible for the accident.
The verdict stated Jackson’s negligence equaled 70% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 30%. The jury awarded Melanie only $70,000 dollars.
In the event the jury had found Jackson’s negligence equaled 49% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 51%, the jury would be barred by law from awarding Melanie any compensation for the damages.
Comparative Negligence: Section 895.045
Right of Way: Section 346.18.2
Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices: Section 346.89
Wisconsin’s No Fault Car Insurance
In Wisconsin, car owners must purchase no-fault car insurance or other security, such as a surety bond, personal funds, or certificate of self-insurance . No-fault insurance allows a person, who is injured in a car accident or whose property is damaged, to file a claim with their own car insurance company.
No-fault insurance allows a person to avoid pursuing a negligent driver for compensation for damages. No-fault insurance does not compensate for pain and suffering, and the amount of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance purchased by the injured party determines their coverage.
For information about insurance requirements, see the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance Auto Insurance Guide.
Statute of Limitations
Wisconsin has a six (6) year statute of limitations for property damage and personal injury claims. This means if a driver, passenger, or passerby is injured or sustains property damage at the hands of a negligent driver, the victim must file a lawsuit within the six (6) year period following the date of the accident.
Small Claims Courts
In Wisconsin, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. The jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of $5,000.
To submit a claim in small claims court, see the Wisconsin Courts guide.
To obtain the required forms to submit a small claim, see the Wisconsin Courts forms webpage.
Wisconsin Government Tort Claims – Sovereign Immunity
In Wisconsin, it is possible to submit a claim against a governmental agency or its employees for personal injury or property damage as a result of negligence on the part of the governmental agency or its employees. The claim must refer to an lawful action on the part of the governmental agency or employee performed in the scope of their duties.
If the injury or property damage occurred as a result of an unlawful action, then the claimant can sue only the person(s) who caused injury or property damage individually. The governmental agency would not be liable.
If Melissa, an engineer with the Madison Planning Department, ran a red light on her way to a worksite and caused an accident, then the City of Madison would be liable for the property damage and personal injuries caused her.
If Melissa stopped for a few drinks and became intoxicated before heading to a worksite and causing an accident, then the City of Madison can claim sovereign immunity. Melissa performed an unlawful act and was not acting in the scope of her duties when she became intoxicated on her way to the worksite.
To seek compensation for damages, injured parties would have to sue Melissa personally. The determination of whether or not Melissa was acting within the scope of her duties would have to be decided during a trial.
Wisconsin places a cap of $250,000 on the maximum amount of damages that can be claimed against a government agency or its employees.
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