HUDSON — Building off momentum created in Hudson just days after Minnesota began enforcing its hands-free mobile device law for motorists, Tom Goeltz is making his push for Madison.
Goeltz, whose adult daughter was killed in a 2016 distracted driving crash, said he is building a coalition of advocates in Wisconsin to give future hands-free legislation a boost at the Capitol.
He and his wife Wendy were part of a similar effort in Minnesota, which took years to accomplish.
“I hope to get it together in a series of months” in Wisconsin, Goeltz said Tuesday, Aug. 13.
He’s already demonstrated the ability to make swift change in at least one Wisconsin community. After announcing their intention to pass a local hands-free measure in early June, Hudson Common Council approved the ordinance Aug. 5.
Still, his experience in Minnesota — which took years of advocacy before gaining passage — has him ready for tougher sledding ahead in Madison, where similar legislation has been presented and failed.
Rep. Shannon Zimmerman, R-River Falls, said lawmakers bristled at the notion of additional costs to vehicles not equipped with Bluetooth technology and the possibility of the law impacting commerce.
“It just hadn’t gained momentum,” he said.
Others have argued Wisconsin’s inattentive driving law allows for enforcement of cellphone use by motorists. Goeltz argues that while that law prohibits text messages, it doesn’t get the phone out of drivers’ hands — and allows offending motorists to say they were dialing a phone number, rather than sending a text.
“And that would be totally legal,” he said.
While there were competing versions of unsuccessful hands-free legislation offered in 2017 and 2018, Zimmerman said he expects a 2019 bill to generate more support. He said opposition seems to be softening.
“I am feeling historical challenges are going to be drowned out by the obvious need for this,” Zimmerman said.
Sen. Patty Schachtner, D-Somerset, said through a spokeswoman that she would consider supporting such a bill.
“Public safety is a paramount concern,” she said in a prepared statement. “As a medical examiner and state senator, I understand the consequences of distracted driving, and I am open to considering legislation that will make our roads safer for all.”
Zimmerman said a hands-free bill, possibly to be introduced when lawmakers reconvene in September, wouldn’t be identical to Minnesota’s law, but could “be in the same area code.”
In the meantime, Goeltz said he is enlisting support from other families of distracted-driving fatalities, such as an Amery man killed on Minnesota’s Highway 36 near Stillwater and Gary Walsh, a River Falls man whose son, a tow-truck driver, was killed along Interstate 94.
“It’s slowly building momentum,” he said.