EAST MOLINE -- Three Illinois state troopers have been killed this year during traffic stops by motorists who failed to move over and 17 Illinois State Police squad cars have been struck.
Nationwide, there have been 29 auto-related first responder deaths in 2019.
In an effort to prevent future roadside deaths and accidents, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, have partnered together on legislation called the Protecting Roadside First Responders Act.
"2019 marks the first time in 66 years that Illinois State Police have lost more than two state troopers in one year," Durbin said. "It's just a heartbreaking statement considering the year is not even over. What makes these deaths of these three heroes harder, is that Illinois passed a law nearly 20 years ago — Scott's Law — named after Chicago Fire Department Lieutenant Scott Gillen, killed by a drunk driver in 2000 while responding to a crash."
In a press conference at the Illinois State Police 7th District Headquarters, 800 Hillcrest Road, on Tuesday, Durbin and Bustos said the bill is designed to reduce first responder deaths by establishing a new national safety priority by increasing public awareness of "Move Over" laws and encouraging implementation of vehicle technology.
The bill is an enhancement to the Move Over law, also called Scott's Law, that requires any vehicle approaching another vehicle with its emergency lights flashing to reduce speed and change lanes.
Flanked by Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly, Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos, Moline Police Chief Darren Gault, East Moline Police Chief John Reynolds, Silvis Police Chief Mark VanKlaveren and several sheriff's deputies, Durbin said roadway accidents were the single leading cause of officer deaths between 2007 and 2016 in the nation.
Durbin introduced Lucy Kuelper, 12, of Rio, Illinois, who created a Facebook page called the Move Over Project in an effort to increase awareness of Move Over laws. Kuelper was present with her father, Illinois State Police Trooper John Kuelper and her mother, Jessica Kuelper.
Lucy Kuelper's Facebook page has more than 22,000 followers and a weekly reach of more than 2.6 million.
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"I think her message is so critical, that I took her story to the floor of the United States Senate," Durbin said. "Despite the fact that all 50 states have 'Move Over' laws, studies show 70 percent of Americans have never heard of them. Rep. Bustos and I are going to try and reverse this trend."
Bustos thanked Lucy Kuelper for bringing awareness to highway safety and making the issue personal.
"Sen. Durbin will be the lead sponsor on the Senate side and I will be the lead sponsor on the House side," Bustos said. "We want to make sure there is funding for public awareness so that 70 percent gets down to zero percent so everyone knows we have 'Move Over' laws. We have to make sure people know about them. Texting has got to stop. It is dangerous not only for our folks in law enforcement, but it is dangerous for our kids, grand kids, our parents; for all of us."
Bustos said the legislation will be introduced when Congress is back in session in a few weeks.
The Protecting Roadside First Responders Act will: Require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to promote the requirement of crash avoidance technology on all new motor vehicles by 2022, including forward collision warnings; require all federal fleet vehicles to have crash avoidance technology by 2025; require all federal fleet vehicles used for emergency response activities to be equipped with digital alert technology by 2025; and require NHTSA to produce research findings on the effectiveness of Move Over laws and related public awareness campaigns.
In addition to the deaths of three state troopers, Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly said 18 additional troopers were struck and injured.
"The injuries sustained by these troopers who survived crashes varied from minor injuries to more serious injuries of compound bone fractures," Kelly said. "Scott's Law requires motorists approaching stopped emergency vehicles to slow down and move over; it's that simple. I wish we didn't have to keep repeating it, but we do."
Kelly said the fine for a first offense is $250 and the fine for subsequent offenses will increase to $750 Jan. 1, 2020. So far this year, he said Illinois State Police officers have written 5,657 tickets for Scott's Laws violations in the state.
"That's more than a 500 percent increase from 2017," Kelly said. "Enforcement and stiffer penalties alone will not get the job done. That's why I'm glad Sen. Durbin and Rep. Bustos are stepping up."