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Wisconsin Legislators seek equipment law clarification

Update on the continuing effort to clarify enforcement interpretation of Wisconsin’s Trans Code 305 (vehicle equipment) codes by the Wisconsin State Patrol (WSP).
Fenderless street rods are in the spotlight in Wisconsin.

Fenderless street rods are in the spotlight in Wisconsin.

On Aug. 17, 2020, seventeen members of the Wisconsin State Assembly and Wisconsin State Senate wrote to Attorney General Josh Kaul and Transportation Department Secretary Craig Thompson to bring to their attention some concerns that state hot rod enthusiasts had expressed regarding the enforcement of Wisconsin’s Trans Code 305 (vehicle equipment) codes by the Wisconsin State Patrol (WSP).

“These constituents are members of a community that believe this code is being unfairly enforced by the State Patrol: replica hot rod enthusiasts,” read the letter. “The crux of the issue is the interpretation of certain sections of Trans Code 305 and Wisconsin State Statutes 341 by certain WSP troopers and inspectors. The concern stems from warnings and citations issued to hot rod enthusiasts over the last few years for a lack of fenders on their early model replica vehicles.”

The letter pointed out that Trans Code 305 states that “Every motor vehicle originally manufactured after Jan. 1, 1950, every homemade vehicle registered after Jan. 1, 1975 and every vehicle registered as a reconstructed vehicle after March 1, 1996 shall be equipped with adequate fenders.”

The letter said, “However, since these vehicles are replicas of cars built in the 1930s, they are exempt from this requirement under Trans 305.02(4)(b), citing ‘The vehicle equipment requirements for a replica vehicle shall be the same as the vehicle equipment requirements for a vehicle of the same type and model years as the vehicle used for purposes of the reproduction.’ Essentially, this should be interpreted to mean, for example, a replica of a 1931 Ford should follow the same vehicle equipment requirements that were in effect in 1931. As there were no state or federal requirements on fenders at that time, the owner of a replica 1931 Ford should not be held to the standards of today.”

The legislators’ letter also referred to an issue that arose with the vehicle inspections conducted by the WSP in regards to replica vehicles. “On several occasions, after being cited by the State Patrol and required to report for inspections, replica vehicle owners have failed their inspections as replica vehicles under the presumption that replica vehicles must be exactly identical to the original vehicle as (it was) manufactured,” they pointed out. “However, as defined by Wisconsin state statutes 341.268(1)(e), replica vehicle means a motor vehicle, other than a motorcycle, that is a reproduction of a vehicle originally made by another manufacturer and that consists of a reproduction body that is combined with a new, used, or replica frame and drivetrain.”

According to the 17 legislators, state law clearly defines a replica vehicle differently than WSP inspectors have done. “Since these codes went into effect in 1996, there seemed to have been little issue between replica vehicle owners and the WSP for two decades, with problems arising only in the last several years,” the letter pointed out. “Since no changes were made to the codes in the last few years, it can only be a matter of interpretation by State Patrol. To that end, we would like to request a formal opinion on this matter from the office of the Attorney General, as to how these codes and statutes are to be interpreted.”

The legislators stressed that Wisconsin citizens who obtain proper registrations and pay their taxes and fees should not be punished for the arbitrary misinterpretation by a State Patrol officer or vehicle inspector.

The letter was signed by State Assembly Representatives Adam Neylon; Robert Wittke; Rick Gundrum; Ron Tusler; Mike Kuglitsch; Jim Steinke; Mary Felzkowski; Tyler August; Dave Murphy; Ken Skowronski; Joe Sanfelippo; Dan Knodl; Staush Grusynski and Rob Swearingen. Three State Senators – Stephen Nass; Duey Stroebel and Andre Jacque also put their signatures on the letter. The Wisconsin Specialty Vehicle Alliance urged car hobbyists to contact additional state legislators for their support. 

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