State lawmakers propose bill cracking down on unsafe driving near crash sites

Published: Sep. 29, 2021 at 6:47 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - A bill making its way through the Wisconsin legislature would mean stricter rules when driving through accident sites.

The bill would increase fines and potential jail time for people for people who hit a first responder near a crash site.

In addition to increased penalties, the proposal would create a 500-foot “emergency response zone” around the crash. In that area, people would be expected to slow down and potential move over. It’d also ban the use of handheld devices, like cell phones, in that area.

State Rep. Jesse James, R-Altoona, is the former Altoona Police Chief. He said his experience on the streets is why he’s supporting the proposal.

“It is scary out there, extreme scariness out there,” he said. “It’s like Fear Factor. We’ve heard testimony that people would rather go inside a burning building than responding to an accident scene along our highways.”

Trooper Dave Arras with Wisconsin State Patrol has seen plenty of cars zoom right by him on the highway.

“If you’re sitting on the side of the road and someone’s going by you at highway speed, you definitely feel your car rock and you can feel all that energy going by you. You can just imagine if that hits you,” he said.

These dangerous situations led to state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, sponsoring the bill.

She said it probably won’t affect drivers who already slow down, move over and focus on the road when they see a crash site. It will give first responders more tools to ensure everyone drives safely.

“The bill creates what’s called an ‘emergency response zone’ where under the bill, responders could slow down the speed of traffic and distracted driver or reckless driving would be subject to increased penalties,” Loudenbeck said.

While the proposal creates new rules about phone use and other distractive behaviors, Arras said the most important thing is slowing down near emergency personnel.

“It’ll happen real quick,” he said. “At highway speeds, the reaction time when you see something or someone’s coming out, you won’t have much reaction time and someone will unfortunately get hurt or worse and that’s what we don’t want to see.”

Current state law requires drivers move over and slow down.

The bill would double the fine for distracted driving and reckless driving in an “emergency response zone.” It would also increase the penalties for divers who injure someone in these areas to nine months in jail and a $10,000 fine.

The State Assembly passed the bill earlier this year. The State Senate has not yet voted on it.

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