Passing the Protecting Roadside First Responders Act can help avoid a repeat of senseless tragedies

On March 28, 2019, Illinois State Police Trooper Brooke Jones-Story pulled a tractor-trailer over on U.S. Highway 20, near Freeport, Ill. A 12-year veteran of the force, and Freeport resident, Trooper Jones-Story exited her vehicle to inspect the truck. 

But as Trooper Jones-Story began her inspection, another driver approached. Also operating a large tractor-trailer, the driver was headed toward her squad car. He had fallen asleep several times during his current trip. And although he was fatigued, he kept driving. 

{mosads}It was ultimately his fatigue that caused him to hit Trooper Jones-Story’s squad car and the tractor-trailer she was inspecting. Both vehicles caught fire and Trooper Jones-Story was fatally injured. She was just 34 years old. 

It’s a tragic story, but not an uncommon one. Trooper Jones-Story lost her life on the sixth anniversary of another Illinois State Trooper’s tragic death. Trooper James Sauter was also killed when a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and failed to make room for him on the side of the road. 

Troopers Jones-Story and Sauter are not the only first responders who lost their lives while simply doing their job. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), a first responder is struck and killed on the side of the road every other week

But just by slowing down and moving over when a driver sees a first responder on the side of the road, these deaths are easily prevented. All 50 states have Move Over laws, or a legal requirement that drivers slow down and move one lane over when passing a first responder on the side of the road. This includes Scott’s Law in Illinois named in honor of Scott Gillen of the Chicago Fire Department who was struck and killed by a drunk driver while assisting at a crash on a Chicago expressway.

Unfortunately, despite state-level action, the patchwork of laws to protect our first responders on the road are inconsistent — and research shows that 71 percent of Americans are unaware of their legal obligation to move over. 

So, we set out to save those lives with federal action. 

{mossecondads}Together with Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), we introduced the Protecting Roadside First Responders Act. This critical legislation would create a path for states to apply for highway safety funding to support awareness campaigns and equip first responder vehicles with digital alert technology.

Additionally, the bill would require all new cars to be outfitted with crash avoidance technology, like automatic emergency braking, forward collision warnings and lane departure warnings. Although these technologies are available now, they are expensive and not widely deployed. Just as Congress acted to require backup cameras in new vehicles, we should now act to make sure every driver has access to these life-saving technologies. There’s broad support for action on this issue, which is why provisions of our bill were included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Troopers Jones-Story, Sauter, and so many other first responders, should still be with their families today. By passing the Protecting Roadside First Responders Act, we can help avoid a repeat of these senseless tragedies. 

Durbin is the Senate majority whip. Bustos represents the 17th District of Illinois.

Tags first responders Front Lines Tammy Duckworth
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