Welcome to Wisconsin -- unless you're an Illinois driver

May 3, 2004


Take this as fair warning: If you're planning on driving north to Wisconsin on Interstate 94 and your car bears Illinois plates -- or any plate other than Wisconsin -- be prepared to be pulled over, fined and, even if you have a clean driving record and legitimate driver's license, have your car towed and be taken into custody. It happened to me.

I was on I-94 on Saturday, driving to a baby shower in Wisconsin, when I saw two Racine County sheriff's cars parked near an on ramp to the highway. I was in the flow of traffic, so I didn't worry. Then the cars in front of me put on their brakes, so I applied mine. Shortly after that, I saw the lights behind me -- you know, the bright flashing lights atop a sheriff's patrol car. I pulled over so the patrol could pass me, but the officer signaled for me to pull over.

I watched as the officer put on his aviator sunglasses and walked to the passenger side of my car. I rolled down the window, and he leaned in.

"The speed limit is 65, and you were traveling at--" Ahem, rather than tell you what my speed was, let me just admit it. I was over the limit. But so, too, were the cars right in front of me.

The officer -- Racine County Deputy Sheriff Weidner -- asked me for my driver's license and asked if I had a card for bond. I gave him my driver's license and Triple A card. That's when I got the first clue that I want to warn all you non-Wisconsin drivers about. Weidner informed me that, since I wasn't a Wisconsin resident, he couldn't take a bond card, only a credit card or cash. And the worst was yet to come.

After 15 minutes back in his patrol car, Weidner returned to tell me, "I've run a check on your name, and it comes back that you have a valid Illinois driver's license but your license is suspended in Wisconsin."

"What?" I asked. "I don't have a Wisconsin driver's license."

Like the playback of a tape recorder, he repeated that he ran a check. Then he added, "I can't allow you to operate this vehicle on a suspended license.  Do you have someone who can come get you?"

I was in shock and trying to think of just whom to call when Weidner added another zinger. "I've called for a tow truck to come for your car. I have to ask you to give me your purse. I have to check it for weapons."

I gave him my purse, and then he asked me to step out of my car.

"I'm going to have to frisk you now."  I told him I thought men weren't supposed to frisk women, and he replied, "I can handcuff you. According to regulations, I must frisk everyone before allowing them into my car. It's for my safety."  So, as cars slowed down to watch, I submitted to the frisk and the humiliation.

Inside the sheriff's car, I heard the two-way radio describing other cars to be stopped; all were non-Wisconsin.

When we arrived at the Racine County sheriff's station, I asked Weidner if he'd check again to see if there were a mistake on my name. He told me I could call the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, but added with a smirk, "They're closed today."

I gave the deputy my credit card, called my son for help, and soon two of his friends arrived to drive me away -- one driving my car, the other driving his.

On Monday, I called the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles in Madison. A woman there ran a check and came back on the phone saying, "Your status shows valid, no suspension. I don't know where the Racine County sheriffs came up with a suspension for you."

I called Weidner with the information. He told me all my paperwork had been sent to the Racine County district attorney and I should call there. A man in the office told me to get a written report from the DMV and bring it to court and they would give me a credit for the $190.05 I had been fined.

And what about the two hours I was held hostage? And the frisking? And the humiliation? I'll find out when I go to court.

Meanwhile, if you're headed north to Wisconsin with out-of-state plates, and your route takes you through Racine County, call the Wisconsin DMV before you go, get a printout that your record is clean and have it in your car.  Otherwise, be prepared for highway robbery.

(Source: Message on Freedom of Information group on Yahoo)

What do you think? Email me at albert@albertlowe.com with your questions or comments.

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Created: May 4, 2004
Last updated:  October 5, 2005
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