Driving in Minnesota and Wisconsin

Traffic Laws/Driving Rules
English: Minnesota Drivers Manual

Wisconsin Manual:
Motorists’ Handbook PDF

Owning a Car-process of buying and selling
Each state requires you to transfer the title of your vehicle as soon as possible and will give you up to 2 working days to get this done. If this is not done, the driver is subject to a fine of $175.00. The title is connected to the registration of the vehicle and officers use the VIN# on the dashboard to track who owns the car. If the title is not transferred, the violation goes to the former owner and that means there is more work that has to be done to try and find the owner of the car. The more work the officers have to do in trying to find the true owner of the car, the more likely you are to receive a fine or a ticket. Where as you may not receive a ticket for a violation if you help them locate you quickly. Also, if you sell a car and the new owner does not transfer the title, you could be held responsible for any fines that vehicle incurs so it is important to make sure the sale of the vehicle is done properly.

Selling your Vehicle in Wisconsin

Requirement in Wisconsin to notify the state when you sell your vehicle to another individual

Selling your Vehicle in Minnesota

Importance of having Auto Insurance

Wisconsin Insurance Requirements:
Drivers and owners of motor vehicles are required to show proof of insurance at traffic stops.

Minnesota Insurance Requirements:
When you register a vehicle in Minnesota, you are attesting that the vehicle is properly insured. The Minnesota No-Fault Act requires owners of registered motor vehicles to maintain no-fault insurance. Drivers are also required to carry proof of insurance in the vehicle at all times and to provide it to police officers upon demand.

When you have auto insurance:

  • You are protecting your automobile
  • You are able to pay for medical bills if an accident occurs.
  • You don’t have to feel the biggest part of an accident-related lawsuit.
  • You protect your wages and assets (house, car, etc.) from being lost due to a lawsuit.
  • You are protected from those motorists that may not have insurance of their own.
  • Not only pays for accidents and weather-related incidents, but also pays for vandalism and theft.
  • You know you are protected every single time you hit the road.

Mandatory Liability Insurance Coverage

It is state law in Minnesota and Wisconsin that drivers need to have auto insurance with liability coverage. Auto liability insurance coverage helps cover the costs of the other driver’s property and bodily injuries if you’re found at fault in an accident.  Mistakes do happen and you never know when something may occur that you will be at fault. If you don’t have insurance and are at fault in an accident, you may be paying money to the accident victims out of your wages for years to come. Those who have been injured in an accident at no fault of their own are entitled to have their medical bills, vehicle repairs, and other expenses paid by the insurance of the person who was at fault. If the person at fault does not have insurance, then they do have to pay those expenses out of their pocket. Many people have been known to lose major assets because they did not pay the minimal cost of having auto insurance to prevent such losses.

These are reasons why it is important to have auto insurance. 

Recommended Collision and Comprehensive Insurance Coverage

You might be careful in obeying traffic laws, but you never know when someone else will not and you or your property may be hurt because of someone else’s fault. Optional Collision insurance is a coverage that helps pay to repair or replace your car if it’s damaged in an accident with another vehicle or object, such as a fence or a tree.

There are times when certain acts of nature may occur such as a hail storm or a falling tree that may cause damage to an automobile and it would cost too much money out of pocket to fix these things. Comprehensive insurance is an optional auto insurance coverage that protects your car against damage not resulting from a collision, as well as from theft. It covers a wide array of events that can damage your car, including vandalism, fires, and rockslides on twisting mountain roads. 

The insurance will sometimes charge a small deductible depending on the type of accident that has occurred, but the cost is minimal compared to what it would cost to fix an automobile on your own.

While state law does require liability coverage to protect against you injuring someone else, the law does not require collision or comprehensive coverage. It may be recommended because collision and comprehensive cover damage to your property caused by someone or something else. 

Basic Rights when Stopped by the Police*

Your rights

  • You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to exercise that right, say so out loud. (In some states, you may be required to provide your name if asked to identify yourself.)
  • You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but police may pat down your clothing if they suspect a weapon.
  • If you are arrested by police, you have the right to a government-appointed lawyer.
  • If you are detained by ICE, you have the right to consult with a lawyer, but the government is not required to provide one for you. You
    can ask for a list of free or low-cost alternatives.
  • You do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you are a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country. (Separate rules apply at international borders and airports, and for individuals on certain nonimmigrant visas, including tourists and business travelers.)

What to do if you are arrested or detained

  • Say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Don’t give any explanations or excuses. Don’t say anything, sign anything, or make any decisions without a lawyer.
  • If you have been arrested by police, you have the right to make a local phone call. The police cannot listen if you call a lawyer.
  • If you have been detained by ICE, you have the right to contact your consulate or have an officer inform the consulate of your detention.
  • Remember your immigration number (“A” number) and give it to your family. It will help family members locate you.
  • Keep a copy of your immigration documents with someone you trust.
  • If you are a non-citizen: Ask your lawyer about the effect of a criminal conviction or plea on your immigration status. Don’t discuss your immigration status with anyone but your lawyer. While you are in jail, an immigration agent may visit you. Do not answer questions or sign anything before talking to a lawyer. Read all papers fully. If you do not understand or cannot read the papers, tell the officer you need an interpreter.

If you believe your rights were violated

  • Write down everything you remember, including officers’ badges and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details. Get contact information for witnesses.
  • If you’re injured, seek medical attention immediately and take photographs of your injuries.
  • File a written complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. In most cases, you can file a complaint anonymously if you wish.*

*Above Information courtesy of the ACLU

If you pulled over and you are unsure of what is happening and you want to understand better, you may ask to see if it is possible to get an interpreter on the phone. It may not be possible, but you can ask by saying: “Is an interpreter available?” The officers want to understand you just as much as you want to understand them so don’t hesitate to ask!

Types of Traffic Infractions

Driving without a license

Driving without Insurance

Driving while Intoxicated

Getting into an Accident
Consequences for each type of accident are different and vary by state. The fines start at $187 in Wisconsin for inattentive driving and texting while driving and go up from there.

Safety : If you have an accident or go off the road and leave your car there, leave a note to let the police know how to get in touch with you. If you do not leave information or have someone call the police after you have an accident, the police do not know if you are okay or laying on the side of the road somewhere because you are injured. The police have to search for you and possibly call an ambulance and fire truck to help look for you if they aren’t sure if you were hurt or not. If they think you just walked away from your vehicle, they will have to do more work to track and find you. The more work the police have to do to find you, the higher your fines will be.

Reasons you may get stopped or pulled over by an officer

On the roads, the job of Police officers and Sheriffs is to make sure everyone is following the rules and is safe. There are many reasons that someone who is driving a vehicle may get stopped by an officer. Some of the reasons are listed below, but not limited to the following:

  • There is an equipment violation (headlight or taillight out, cracked light lens, cracked windshield that obstructs proper vision, loud exhaust, unreadable or incorrect plates, no seatbelt in use, etc.)
  • Driving too fast or too slow.
  • Suspicious driving like driving too slow or not staying in your lane.
  • Any of the above may cause an officer to run your plates. If an officer runs your plates and finds that the owner of the vehicle does not have a license, he may pull you over as it is not legal to drive a vehicle without a proper license.

Sometimes an officer is not able to print a ticket on the road due to computer issues or if he or she doesn’t have enough time. So, it is possible that the officer will mail your ticket later and you will get it at your house instead of in person. For that reason, it is important to let them know if you have a different address than the one listed on your identification.

How to read a traffic ticket in Wisconsin

Here is an example ticket from Buffalo County, Wisconsin. Traffic tickets look different in Minnesota. The circled areas are where you can find your personal information written on the ticket based on the identification you provided, the reason you were given a ticket, the amount of the fine and if you have to appear in court or not.

Example Traffic Ticket

Things to know if you have to appear in court

What to do if you have to appear in court:

  • If you need an interpreter, call ahead of time to make sure the court knows this.
  • Check the date and time of your appearance and come to the courthouse 15 minutes to 30 minutes before your scheduled time.
  • Make sure your full name, address, and birth date are correct.

If you are in jail, or have a case where you may go to jail in the future, the Public Defender may represent you if you cannot afford an attorney. You can call the Public Defenders office to see if they will appoint an attorney.  They have interpreters who can help you speak to them.  They will ask you questions about your income and your property. Call them as soon as possible so that an attorney can be with you at all of your court dates.  

Call the county where your case is located, not the county where you live.

How to get a Public Defender in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin you apply for a Public Defender through the Public Defender’s office.  You can apply by phone or in person.

Public Defender (Buffalo, Pepin Counties and Eau Claire Counties, WI)

21 S. Barstow Street
Eau Claire, WI  54701
Phone:  (715) 836-2006

Public Defender (Dunn, Pierce and St Croix Counties, WI)

2100 O’Neil Road-Suite 400
Hudson, WI  54016
Phone:  (715) 836-4360

Public Defender (Trempealeau and Jackson Counties, WI)

438 N. Water St.
Black River Falls, WI  54615-1017
Phone:  (715) 284-9553

Public Defender (La Crosse County,  WI)

205 5th Ave. S. – Suite 200
La Crosse, WI  54601-4059
Phone:  (608) 785-9531

Public Defender (Monroe County, WI)

121 W. Oak St.
Sparta, WI  54656-1712
Phone:  (608) 269-0200

How to get a Public Defender in Minnesota

In Minnesota, you ask the judge to appoint you a Public Defender.  You must complete an application form which you get from the Court.  The Judge will appoint a Public Defender to represent you only if:  (1) you are under age 18, or (2) if you are an adult and the judge decides that you cannot afford to hire a private attorney.

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