Seat-belt usage has become second nature for motorists, said a local state police captain.
Looking at the numbers, Jason LoCoco is right.
Illinois State Police have taken to the enforcing Scott’s Law much more this year — more than five times more than the last year.
Only 15.9% of front-seat drivers and passengers wore seat belts in 1985 in Illinois, according to an Illinois Department of Transportation report. That percentage climbed to 93.8% by 2017.
LoCoco hopes the same trend happens to motorists when it comes to obeying Scott’s Law.
“It does take time,” said LoCoco, who is captain at Illinois State Police District 17, La Salle. “It takes the education” — and proactive enforcement.
Comply or expect to pay big
As the price of cigarettes and gas has increased in Illinois, failing to yield to an emergency vehicle may become more expensive.
An Illinois Senate Bill that could increase the fine awaits Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature.
The bill would increase the minimum fine from $100 to $250 for a first violation and subsequent violations would cost a minimum of $750.
Violators would also be charged an additional $250 assessment fee.
The charge becomes a misdemeanor if the violation results in vehicle damage and a felony if the violation results in an injury or death of another person.
The bill becoming law seems likely, considering Pritzker’s statement in May: “No one’s time or convenience is worth more than the lives of our state’s heroes and I look forward to signing this legislation and continuing to make that message clear.”
At least 16 state police squad cars have been struck and two troopers killed since Jan. 1 in crashes involving alleged violations of Scott’s Law, according to the Associated Press.
Why are Scott’s Law violations becoming an issue?
“I think there’s a direct correlation between distracted driving and Scott’s Law violations,” LoCoco said.
Distracted driving includes anything that takes a driver’s attention away from driving, like eating, playing with the radio or using a cell phone.
And there’s been an increase in traffic on roadways, LoCoco said, which means more incidents, more disabled motorists, more troopers on the sides of roads handling calls.
He considers cell phones and texting to be in their infancy states, and the hope is motorists’ use of them while driving dwindles.
Scott’s Law requires motorists to either move over or slow down when approaching stopped all vehicles that display flashing emergency lights.
So the law doesn’t just apply to police, ambulances and fire trucks — it also applies to maintenance vehicles like Illinois Department of Transportation crews working.
“I think the biggest thing is to make sure that drivers know that it does apply to us,” said Tom Hufnagel, IDOT operations engineer.
There are times when drivers don’t move over or slow down while crews are working, which exposes the workers closer to traffic, Hufnagel said.
Sometimes people can’t move over, Hufnagel said, but hopefully they’re choosing to slow down as much as possible.
La Salle County Sheriff Tom Templeton doesn’t know that higher fines will decrease the violations, but he does think the topic could be publicized more.
He encourages motorists to look at the road and stay off phones.
“You have got to pay attention,” Templeton said.