EDITORIAL: Give responders ample space to ensure their safety
It always seems to happen when we’re in heavy traffic: An ambulance, squad car or fire truck comes wailing up from behind. Of course, we try to pull off onto the shoulder to let it by, as the law requires.
However, we’ve noticed through the years that motorists don’t seem to make much of an effort to get out of the way when such emergency vehicles are parked alongside the road.
That’s unfortunate, for a law that took effect Dec. 1, 2001, requires us to shift lanes where possible in order to give emergency vehicles and tow trucks a safe zone in which to work.
Last month in Chippewa County, a 31-year-old deputy who was directing motorists around a truck fire was struck by a sedan and killed. He was the third Chippewa Valley officer to die in this fashion since 1993.
In nearby Dane County, meanwhile, four sheriff’s deputy squad cars that were pulled off to the side of the road recently were struck in a two-week period. One car was totaled and at least one deputy sustained minor injuries and had to be transported to a hospital. In the most recent incident, on Jan. 3, a Dane County squad car was hit while at the scene of a crash at State Highways 113 and 19 in the Town of Westport. Fortunately, the deputy was uninjured; however, the squad car received moderate damage and had to be towed from the scene.
State law reads that any motorist approaching an authorized emergency vehicle — police, fire, ambulance and conservation warden vehicle — or tow truck that is stopped on or within 12 feet of the paved portion of a highway and has its emergency lights flashing should shift lanes if possible. For instance, on a four-lane divided highway, drivers should move to the left lane if the emergency vehicle is parked along the right shoulder. If shifting lanes would put the vehicle into oncoming traffic, motorists must slow until they are past the parked vehicle.
Persons who fail to either shift lanes or slow down will be subject to a fine and other court costs.
The law also requires a court to suspend the violator’s driving privileges for 90 days to a year if the violation results in damage to another person’s property, and 180 days to two years if a person is injured. A fatality due to violation of this new law would mean an automatic license suspension for two years.
While many of us already move over when we see a police traffic stop or disabled vehicle ahead, many more motorists apparently don’t. Since the Wisconsin State Patrol was created in 1939, dozens of troopers have been injured and two have been killed by passing vehicles. And that doesn’t even count the many sheriff’s squad cars in our state’s 72 counties.
Poor road conditions in winter also play a role in the safety of emergency responders and highway maintenance workers. Motorists should pay attention, slow down and move over if possible when approaching any vehicle on the roadside with emergency lights flashing.
— Daily Jefferson County Union, Fort Atkinson.