Our View: Move over for emergency vehicles and save a life

In the wake of 11 squad cars being hit by motorists already this year, the Illinois State Police will conduct statewide enforcement details in the coming weeks to enforce violations of the Move Over Law, also known as “Scott’s Law.”

The last incident occurred on Feb. 16 in Jefferson County where a trooper’s squad car was rear-ended by another car.

Scott’s Law has been in effect since 2002. It was named after Lt. Scott Gillen, a Chicago firefighter who was part of an emergency crew at an accident scene when he was killed by a passing vehicle two days before Christmas 2000.

The law states motorists who do not slow down and change lanes when they approach an emergency crew at an accident or a police officer writing a ticket could be fined no less than $100 and up to $10,000 and receive a license suspension of up to two years if the violation involved an injury.

Illinois State Police Director Brian Kelly said obeying Scott’s Law is about “basic decency and respect for the very lives of the brave souls on our streets simply trying to help the public.”

Scott’s Law requires 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 caution when passing others on the side of the road, such as construction vehicles, passenger vehicles and disabled vehicles.

But it’s clear not all drivers have gotten the message. During a single traffic stop, witnessed by a Shaw Media reporter, 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.

“If somebody’s not familiar with (Scott’s Law), they must live under a rock,” a State Police trooper told our reporter. “Everybody’s busy, everybody’s got a place to be, but the most important thing is to arrive at your destination safe. 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?”

Under Scott’s Law:

  • All drivers must change lanes when approaching stationary emergency vehicles, including highway maintenance vehicles displaying flashing lights, and any stationary vehicle with their hazard lights activated. The law also states, if changing would be impossible or unsafe, drivers are required to proceed with caution, reduce the speed of the vehicle and leave a safe distance until safely passing the stationary vehicle.
  • All drivers are prohibited from reading, sending or receiving text messages or communication, and from browsing the internet.
  • All drivers are prohibited from using handheld electronic communication devices.
  • Drivers under the age of 19 are prohibited from using any cellphone, even hands-free.
  • All drivers are prohibited from using any cellphone, even hands-free, while in school speed zones and work zones.
  • School bus drivers are not permitted to use any type of cellphone, even hands-free.
  • It is illegal to use a cellphone or take photos or videos on wireless devices when driving within 500 feet of an emergency scene.

Scott’s Law was enacted for good reason: to protect people and save lives. These are the people who are operating roadblocks, pulling over speeders, directing traffic or helping motorists. They are keeping all of us safe, at the risk of their own lives.

Driving is a privilege, not a right. With it comes responsibilities, and we allow ourselves to become distracted by technological devices. Each of the 11 incidents in which State Police squad cars have been hit this year could have been prevented. It’s a matter of courtesy and common sense for drivers to slow down and pull into the other lane when they see a police officer or emergency crews stopped by the side of the road.

We can all do our part to prevent law enforcement deaths or injuries on the roadside this year: Turn off your phone while driving. The call, text or email can wait. Minimize distractions. Keep your eyes on the road. Slow down and move over when you see anyone on the side of the roadway, whether it be a trooper, tow truck driver, ambulance, fire truck or any vehicle that has pulled over. Let other cars merge into your lane.

Move over, because it’s the right thing to do.