Durbin And Bustos Announce New Legislation To Protect First Responders Roadside

EAST MOLINE – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17) today held a news conference to announce new legislation designed to reduce first responder roadside deaths by establishing a new national safety priority within an existing federal grant program to increase public awareness of “Move Over” laws and encourage implementation of life-saving vehicle technology.

“We need to do more to respond to the alarming rise in first responder roadside deaths,” Durbin said. “Move Over laws like Scott’s Law in Illinois are critical to keeping first responders safe when they are responding to an incident, but it’s clear that we need to raise awareness of these laws and add digital alert technology for drivers. The Protecting Roadside First Responders Act will provide states with the resources to better enforce these laws and help keep our first responders safe.”

“As the wife of sheriff, I’m grateful for the work our first responders do to protect and serve our communities every day,” Bustos said. “Across the country, and right here in our communities in Illinois, we have seen too many preventable tragedies occur during stops along major roads and highways. We must do more to ensure our Move Over laws are followed, protect our first responders and save lives – which is what makes this new legislation so important.”

As of October, there have been 29 auto-related first-responder deaths nationwide in 2019, as opposed to 21 at the same time last year. Studies show more than 70 percent of Americans are unaware of Move Over laws like Scott’s Law in Illinois, which requires motorists to slow down and, if possible, move over when they see a parked squad car, fire engine, or ambulance with flashing lights. All 50 states have Move Over laws.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) operates two federal grant programs focused on highway safety, but neither currently address Move Over laws. The Section 402 Program provides grants to states to reduce injuries and deaths from motor vehicle accidents by addressing issues such as drug and alcohol-impaired driving, speeding, pedestrian safety, and the enforcement of traffic laws. The Section 405 Program establishes national safety priorities, such as combatting cell phone use among drivers, and provides grants to states to address these priorities.

The Protecting Roadside First Responders Act would establish move over law education and compliance as a national highway safety priority under existing NHTSA programs.  This would allow states to apply for grant funding to execute move over law awareness campaigns, and to equip vehicles with digital alert and crash avoidance technology.

The digital alert technology, currently deployed by some localities around the country, sends a real-time, audible, hands-free warning to motorists via navigation apps on their smartphone or their in-vehicle navigation system; notifying the driver when they are approaching an emergency responder vehicle.  Deploying the technology only requires a small, inexpensive transponder to be added to emergency vehicles.

As of April 2019, 17 Illinois State Police (ISP) squad cars were struck as a result of drivers failing to move over—twice as many as in 2018.  Several suffered serious injuries and three of these incidents were fatal.  This year, ISP has mourned the loss of Trooper Brooke Jones-Story of Freeport, Trooper Jerry Ellis of Libertyville, and Trooper Christopher Lambert of Highland Park.

Illinois’ move over law, called “Scott’s Law” was first enacted in 2002 to require motorists to slow down, and when possible, move over for all emergency vehicles with their lights on.  It was later expanded in 2017 to include all pulled-over vehicles with their hazard lights on.  The law is named after Chicago Fire Department Lt. Scott Gillen, who was killed in 2000 on the Bishop Ford Freeway.  In July, Governor Pritzker signed a bill expanding upon the law, which increases the fines for violators and charges them an additional $250 fee to establish a fund for education and enforcement of the law.

The Protecting Roadside First Responders Act would also:

  • Require NHTSA to promulgate rules mandating crash avoidance technology on all new motor vehicles by 2022 including automatic emergency braking, forward collision warnings, and lane departure warnings.
  • Require all federal fleet vehicles to have crash avoidance technology (automatic emergency braking, forward collision warnings, and lane departure warnings) by 2025.
  • Require all federal fleet vehicles used for emergency response activities to be equipped with digital alert technology by 2025.
  • Require NHTSA to produce research findings on the efficacy of Move Over laws and related public awareness campaigns as well as recommendations on how to improve these efforts to prevent roadside deaths