In the wake of drivers hitting 16 Illinois State Police cars already this year, local law enforcement is placing more emphasis on enforcing a law designed to protect first responders.
The law, known as Scott’s Law or the Move Over Law, requires motorists to move over and slow down for emergency vehicles that are stopped on the side of the road and have their hazard lights flashing.
The official citation for violating the law is failure to yield one full lane or reduce speech approaching an emergency vehicle.
Of those 16 crashes, three have resulted in the deaths of ISP troopers Christopher Lambert, Brooke Jones-Story and Gerald Ellis.
Both Columbia Police Chief Jerry Paul and Monroe County Sheriff Neal Rohlfing said they see violations of Scott’s Law, but the frequency of it varies.
Paul said Columbia wrote two tickets for failure to yield to emergency vehicles last year, one on I-255 and one on Route 3.
Those are the two biggest roads the department patrols.
He said sometimes people break the law and police are unable to issue a citation, but that captures the majority of violations in his area.
“I won’t say that it’s real frequent, but it does happen,” Paul said of people breaking Scott’s Law and not getting a citation. “People here in Monroe County are mostly respectful, but it does happen from time to time.”
Rohlfing said his office, which patrols over 50 miles of highway and interstate roadways, has the problem more frequently.
He estimated his department has issued six to 10 citations for Scott’s Law violations so far this year.
He also said more people get away with violating the law in his area.
“That happens quite a bit, if we’re on traffic stops and people don’t get over,” he said.
For comparison, the state police have issued about 500 Scott’s Law citations this year, up from around 200 at this time last year.
Paul said the number of people violating the law in 2019 seems similar to 2018, but Rohlfing said that was not the case for his department.
“I think there’s an increase, but I think that goes along with distracted driving and people going on their phone doing other things and not paying attention,” he said.
Paul agreed with Rohlfing and the ISP on the main cause of Scott’s Law violations.
“In general, I think it’s on a significant rise as far as people with devices and being distracted with those devices being a contributing factor to crashes,” he said.
Last year, Columbia saw a 522 percent increase in citations for unlawful use of an electronic device.
Both leaders also said they are putting more focus on citing motorists who break Scott’s Law, which is named after a Chicago firefighter who died while assisting on a crash scene on an expressway in December 2000.
Additionally, Rohlfing said his department has applied for grants from the Illinois Department of Transportation to promote traffic safety on Route 3, which his department helps patrol.
The ISP is also putting more emphasis on enforcing the law, as it has pledged to enact new tactics and dedicate more man hours to catching violators.
The focus on the issue will be particularly intense this month because April is National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.
For that month, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White is also contributing to the effort, as he called on drivers to stop driving while distracted.
His office is also adding a reminder about the law to driver’s license renewal notices.
“I am sickened over the recent tragedies that have taken the lives of law enforcement officers who are simply doing their jobs,” White said. “If you see a stopped emergency vehicle on the side of the road, reduce speed and change lanes if possible.”
Paul and Rohlfing said adhering to the law is crucial.
“(It’s important) for the safety of the officer, but also for the safety for the person the officer has stopped,” Paul said. “It’s just the right thing to do.”
“Obviously, the safety factor is important,” Rohlfing agreed. “The officers are out there doing their job. They have to focus their attention, primarily, on the vehicle and the violator because you don’t know if the traffic stop is going to turn into a felony situation.
“It’s very difficult to keep your eyes on the violator and also on oncoming traffic behind you. So, if people would abide by the law, it makes the whole situation safer for officers.”
The penalty for violating Scott’s Law is a minimum fine of $100 to $10,000 and the offense goes on the motorist’s driving record.
A violator’s driver’s license is also suspended for 24 months in the event of a fatality and six months in the event of personal injury.