After 3 deaths this year, Illinois State Troopers cracking down on drivers who won’t move over for emergency vehicles
Illinois State Police Sgt. John Morscheiser II grabs his trooper hat and prepares to exit his vehicle onto Interstate 80 to speak with a driver he clocked driving 16 mph over the speed limit.
He opens the door slightly and looks behind him, toward what he says is the greatest hazard any state trooper faces: oncoming traffic. Once the road is clear, he walks to the vehicle and speaks with the driver before walking back to his clearly visible and illuminated Illinois State Police SUV.
He pauses in front of the vehicle on the side of the road.
A truck with an attached trailer whizzes by at more than 70 mph just a few feet away, shaking both Morscheiser’s vehicle and that of the driver he’d pulled over.
Once the road is clear again, he steps back into his vehicle.
“He could have gotten over,” Morscheiser said of the truck driver. “Like I said, it’s constant.”
Morscheiser agreed to let a Shaw Media reporter ride with him for four hours recently to witness not only the danger of passing vehicles on the side of the roads at high speeds, but also the high number of drivers who do it.
So far this year, three Illinois State troopers have been killed while their vehicles were stopped on the shoulder. The deaths of Troopers Christopher Lambert, Brooke Jones-Story and Gerald Ellis have led to increased efforts to make the public aware of “Scott’s Law,” which calls for drivers to slow down when approaching an emergency vehicle on the shoulder of a road, and when possible, to move out of the right lane of traffic.
Other laws call for the same due caution when passing others on the side of the road, such as construction vehicles, passenger vehicles, disabled vehicles and more.
But it’s clear not all drivers have gotten the message. During a single traffic stop, five vehicles raced past in the right lane at speeds over 70 mph, not to mention the vehicles speeding past in the left lane, where drivers are expected to reduce their speed.
“They’re not going by me with ‘due caution’ as the law says,” Morscheiser said.
Morscheiser said he doesn’t want drivers hitting their brakes to go
30 mph and cause an accident, but generally he likes to see drivers cognizant of their environment by slowing down to a comfortable speed, with both hands on the steering wheel and driving in a relatively straight line as the road allows.
Whether a driver gets a warning or a citation is up to officer discretion, said Morscheiser. Citations come with a mandatory court appearance and a fine of $100 to as much as $10,000.
The increase in citations is rippling through the entire state, with the Illinois State Police stating on Facebook that troopers have issued almost 2,600 tickets for violations of the move-over law since the beginning of the year, more than seven times the 339 such tickets that were issued over the same period last year.
Morscheiser said state police been educating and warning drivers for many years, but he’s been leaning more toward citations lately because of the number of troopers who have already been hit in 2019.
“It’s being blasted so far now with media and social media. If somebody’s not familiar with it they must live under a rock,” Morscheiser said.
Later in the day, Morscheiser parks his vehicle behind Trooper Casey Huebbe, who had another vehicle pulled over on the side of the road, for the sole purpose of conducting Scott’s Law stops for the day.
In short order, a large truck passes on the right side of the road at a high speed near Huebbe’s vehicle, despite having space in the left lane to get over and seeing two police vehicles with lights activated.
Morscheiser drives after the truck and pulls over the driver. The man behind the wheel is from Texas, and said he was familiar with Scott’s Law but misjudged how far back the car behind him was. Morscheiser opts for an educational moment this time, letting him off with a warning.
As he continues to watch traffic every time he steps out of his vehicle, it’s his hope that drivers drop cellphones as well as their speed and be mindful of their surroundings.
Not only for his safety and the safety of his fellow officers, but also for their own.
“Everybody’s busy, everybody’s got a place to be, but the most important thing is to arrive at your destination safe,” Morscheiser said. “It seems like everybody has an excuse for their actions but at the end of the day is it really worth it to save yourself 30 seconds or a couple of minutes here or there?”