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Wisconsin vehicle equipment case is being watched

By John Gunnell


Modified vehicle enthusiasts throughout the United States deal constantly with the question of what equipment is mandatory or legal on their hobby cars. This concern also trickles over into the collector car hobby when law enforcement officers stop a classic car for not having equipment such as seat belts or directional signals that wasn’t required when the car was built and therefore isn’t required today.

To make matters worse, many equipment laws vary from state to state. And to add to the confusion, even when the laws are the same in two states, the way in which the laws are interpreted may vary. Groups such as the Specialty Vehicle Market Assoc. (SEMA) do a good job fighting for the interests of car hobbyists and keeping track of legislative issues, but some of the equipment standards are still hard to unravel.

The Wisconsin Specialty Vehicle Council–an umbrella group for hot rodders and old-car enthusiasts in Wisconsin—is watching a court case that centers around hot rodders in the Dodgeville, Wis. area receiving equipment violation citations or 10-day fix-it tickets for operating modified cars without fenders, hoods or proper exhaust systems. One of the hot rodders has pleaded not guilty and is going to court over the tickets.

Equipment violation concerns were previously raised in Wisconsin in the spring of 2016. At that time, meetings were held around between Wisconsin State Patrol representatives and Wisconsin auto enthusiasts. The Automobile Gallery in Green Bay hosted a special-vehicle-equipment-standards meeting for Northeast Wisconsin car hobbyists that Old Cars Weekly attended. We reported that Sergeant Mark J. Abrahamson of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation’s Division of State Patrol, had presented an informed discussion of how and why such standards are enforced.

In the current situation, hobbyists contend that 1990s laws are being misinterpreted and incorrectly applied. Hot rodders believe that the 2016 meetings highlighted that misinterpretation of the 1990s laws and were causing issues for the auto enthusiast community regarding titling, registration and vehicle equipment inspections. They pointed out that a state patrol representative recognized the consequences of the misinterpretations and stated that correcting the misinterpretations would require changes to be made to what was being taught at Wisconsin’s State Patrol Academy.

According to the enthusiasts, a follow-up meeting was held in March, 2018 in Madison at which representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles/Vehicle Services, Wisconsin State Patrol, Wisconsin Specialty Vehicle Council and National Street Rod Assoc. met to discuss the issue and the state patrol said new legislation was required to change some 1990s laws to conform to new interpretations.

The enthusiasts reacted by stating that the 1990s laws had worked for 29 years and changing them to comply to new interpretations was unnecessary. Apparently, Wisconsin State Patrol representatives did not embrace this solution. Some of the hobbyists say that when they asked for additional meetings on the subject, the state patrol representatives stated that there was “nothing more to discuss.” The focus now is on the May 2nd court case in Dodgeville and how it turns out will affect what happens next.

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