By Patrick Lynn
A new bill offering protections for first responders and roadside workers is circulating the State Assembly.
Introduced by Rep. Katrina Shankland, Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, Rep. John Spiros, and Sen. Patrick Testin, and Sen. Tim Carpenter, the bill would strengthen penalties for traffic violations, such as reckless driving and speeding, in areas where emergency workers and roadside response vehicles are present.
The legislation would create an emergency response area around the workers, similar to a work zone, in which first responders can better control traffic by reducing the speed limit.
Fines for speeding, reckless driving, cell phone use, and other traffic violations would be doubled under the bill. If a motorist causes bodily harm to highway/utility maintenance or construction workers, or emergency or roadside response personnel, they can be fined up to $10,000, sent to jail to nine months, or both, and could face up to 200 hours of community service and traffic school.
Shankland said she worked with Amherst Fire Chief Victor Voss and Assistant Fire Chief Brian Swan, among others, for over a year before drafting the bill.
“When I heard from multiple fire departments around the state that they’d rather run into a burning building than respond to an accident on the highway due to the risk of reckless drivers, I knew we had to do more to make our roadways safer,” Shankland said in a news release.
“Since education is key to prevention, this legislation also requires the Department of Transportation to create an awareness campaign to ensure drivers are made aware of these changes, as well as the danger that their inattention or distraction can pose to the very people who come to the scene of an accident to protect us,” she added.
The bill has already earned support from the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin EMS Association, the Wisconsin County Highway Association, the Badger State Sheriffs Association, the Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, and the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association.