Local Editorials

Our View: Uptick in collisions leads to Scott's Law crackdown

Trooper Brooke Jones-Story
Trooper Brooke Jones-Story

After a second Illinois state trooper was killed in a week on Illinois roads, state police are alarmed, and you should be, too.

So far this year, motorists have hit 16 squad cars stopped along Illinois roads. Three of those incidents cost three Illinois State Police troopers their lives, including two this week.

To put this number into perspective, this year’s 16 collisions, occurring statewide at a rate of more than one a week, already are more than the yearly totals for 2016 (5), 2017 (12), and 2018 (8).

And there have been 495 recorded violations of the law, compared with 184 during the same period last year.

“This information is obviously extremely concerning,” acting ISP Director Brendan Kelly said Tuesday during a news conference at the capitol in Springfield, even before 36-year-old Trooper Brian Ellis was killed by a driver going the wrong way on Interstate 94 on Saturday.

In January, trooper Christopher Lambert was struck and killed along Interstate 294 near Northbrook while he was assisting at an accident scene. 

On Thursday, Trooper Brooke Jones-Story was fatally struck in Freeport on Route 20 near Route 75. Jones-Story was conducting an inspection on the shoulder of the road when another semitractor-trailer truck slammed into her.

These are worst-case scenarios among incidents occurring more often, Kelly said, despite a law that requires motorists to move over and slow down for emergency vehicles that are stopped and have their hazard lights flashing.

Scott’s Law was passed in Illinois in 2002. In 2013, the law was extended to apply to other vehicles, including ambulances and tow trucks.

Perhaps the turbulent winter led to more emergency vehicles being out on the road. Regardless, all the crashes were preventable. As he spoke Tuesday, Kelly was flanked by photos of recent collisions, mangled squad cars hit by distracted or impaired drivers, which Kelly said have resulted in injuries ranging from concussions, cuts and muscle tears to ruptured and bulged discs, compound bone fractures – and death. Kelly blamed the increase on distracted and impaired driving.

“The amount of distracted driving out there is something everybody is sensitive to,” Kelly said. “And it’s increasing, at least anecdotally, from talking to our colleagues across the country.”

This is also worrisome as we head into road-construction season.

On Tuesday, Kelly referenced a plan to increase Scott’s Law enforcement by allocating an extra 2,000 man-hours and using “some new and creative techniques” devoted to catch drivers breaking the law.

“If you see a squad car with warning lights on, don’t assume it’s a lone trooper just doing a regular traffic stop,” Kelly said. “You could have eyes, video, and other instrumentation all around you as part of a special Scott’s Law detail.”

It’s unfortunate it’s come to allocating more man-hours to catch distracted or impaired drivers, when it’s so simple to leave your phone alone while driving or not drive while under the influence.

However, looking at the incident numbers so far this year, the move is justified.

Asked to elaborate on the new tactics, which will be paid for with ISP’s existing funds, Kelly said he was “not going to spell it out right here.”

The 14th recorded collision with a parked squad car occurred March 20, when a state trooper and his parked squad car were hit by a semitrailer along Interstate 55 in Collinsville. The officer was outside his car when the crash occurred, and suffered serious injuries. The squad car was demolished.

“If you see an emergency vehicle with their lights activated,” Kelly said, “please slow down and move over. It’s the right and safe thing to do, but failure to do so could also result in prosecution.”

Those who violate Scott’s Law face fines from $100 to $10,000 and a possible loss of a driver’s license. The law is named after Chicago Fire Department Lt. Scott Gillen, who was struck and killed while assisting at a crash on a Chicago expressway in December 2000.

And if you’re ticketed for violating Scott’s Law, know that the fine you pay is small compared with the potential life the ticket saved.

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