As crashes, injuries mount, task force takes aim at Move Over violators
You couldn't blame Illinois State Police for feeling like it's déjà vu all over again, in the worst possible way.
Two years after a rash of roadside crashes left two state police troopers dead and several more injured, it's happening again. Over just three days this week, six state police cars were struck by drivers disobeying the Move Over Law, bringing the total to 10 already this year -- compared to 15 in all of 2020.
Half of this year's crashes caused injuries, and a trooper who was inside a squad car when it was hit Monday along I-55 in Will County remains hospitalized in serious condition.
"We are only six weeks into the new year and we've already had 10 squad cars struck because people do not obey the law," state police Director Brendan Kelly said Tuesday. "But this is about more than just obeying the law -- it's about basic decency and respect for the very lives of the brave souls on our streets simply trying to help the public."
The recent run of crashes shows that too many drivers were unaffected by the deaths in 2019 or the enforcement and education campaigns that followed.
So what will get drivers to follow the law, and move over when approaching an emergency vehicle that's pulled over with lights flashing? A state task force launched after the tragedies of 2019 hopes to have some answers.
A state trooper was injured in this 2019 crash near Joliet caused by a driver who was intoxicated and violated the state's Move Over Law, authorities said. It was one of 26 crashes involving state police vehicles that year blamed on drivers who ignored the Move Over Law.
- Courtesy of Illinois State Police
Task force report
Just days before the most recent string of crashes, state police published the findings and recommendations of the Move Over Task Force. Formed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in 2019, the 17-member panel was tasked with studying why drivers ignore the law and recommending ways to better protect police and first responders.
Among its key suggestions:
• Change the Move Over Law to require that drivers both change lanes and slow down when approaching an emergency vehicle that's pulled over with its flashing lights activated. The current law requires drivers to either change lanes or slow down if changing lanes isn't possible.
"The Task Force believes for vehicles to 'proceed with due caution,' they should always reduce speed," state police Sgt. Delila Garcia told us in an email this week. "Therefore, we would achieve Move Over AND Slow Down, as opposed to Move Over OR Slow Down."
• Add distracted driving as an aggravating factor that could lead to a harsher sentence for violators. Current law allows only driving under the influence to be considered an aggravating factor.
• Urge Congress to pursue federal legislation making move over requirements the national standard.
• Install more signs along highways and tollways to educate drivers about the Move Over Law.
• Ease regulations that, the task force says, inhibit ISP's ability to quickly purchase technology and equipment to make troopers safer. Examples include an app for drivers that would warn them when an emergency vehicle is stopped ahead of them on the road; push bumpers to help absorb collisions; reprogramming emergency lightbars to display an arrow stick guiding drivers to move over; and use of electronic citations and reports to limit the length of traffic stops.
"According to state police, one of the biggest things that they want is some more flexibility within the Illinois procurement code to be able to properly equip their cars," said task force member and state Sen. Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods. "I think that's one of the top things that would really help is kind of uncoupling, if you will, them from traditional procurement laws, especially when people's lives are at stake."
McConchie, the Senate Republican leader, said his experience on the task force really brought into focus the severity of the problem. And while there's more the state can do in terms of enforcement and education, drivers need to be part of the solution.
"It's very important that we all do what we can to make sure that we keep people safe," he said.
To read the full task force report, visit https://tinyurl.com/hpsndup8.
Reform bill needs work?
Another suburban law enforcement leader is expressing concerns about the state's criminal justice reform package. This time, it's new Kane County State's Attorney Jamie Mosser.
In a five-page letter to state lawmakers, Mosser took issue with letting people who file complaints against police officers do so without filing sworn affidavits; requiring police departments to keep all records of such complaints permanently in an officer's file, even if they prove to be unfounded; requiring that if a suspect is resisting arrest, and the officer believes he or she could arrest the person later and the person is not likely to cause great bodily harm to another person, the officer should let the person go; prohibiting police officers from reviewing body-camera footage before completing their reports; and requiring victims of alleged crimes to testify, if requested by the defendant, when the defendant is requesting pretrial release.
"The following scenario could occur as a result of this language. Suspect rapes victim. Victim immediately goes to the hospital and a report is made. Defendant is arrested the same day and goes to court the following morning and makes a demand for the victim to appear in court and states that he would be 'materially prejudiced.' The court grants the request requiring the victim to appear in court that day or the day after. While this may seem dramatic, this is a possibility according to added language," Mosser wrote. She said there is no rationale for this when the only thing a judge has to decide is whether the defendant should be detained pretrial.
She also doesn't like a provision that requires suspects have access to their cellphones after their arrest and to be allowed three phone calls. "What happens if the phone is evidence of the crime? ... What if the defendant uses his three phone calls to contact the victim of the crime? What happens if the suspect deletes evidence in the phone?" Mosser wrote.
And then there is the part about not being able to charge people with escape from electronic home monitoring until at least 48 hours have passed since authorities received an alert about the monitor. With that, Mosser said, a defendant charged with aggravated domestic battery, for example, could cut off the monitor, go sit outside the victim's house, return home 47 hours later and not be charged with anything, even though the victim has been traumatized.
Mosser hopes that lawmakers will eliminate or clarify these measures in a trailer bill.
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