By Benjamin Yount
Crashes and traffic stops along Wisconsin's highways could soon be treated like makeshift work zones under a new proposal at the statehouse in Madison.
Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, is pushing a plan that would strengthen the penalties for anyone who speeds past first responders on the side of the road.
"I heard from multiple fire departments around the state that they'd rather run into a burning building than respond to an accident on the highway due to the risk of reckless drivers," Shankland said Monday.
The proposal does a few things. First, it strengthens the penalties for things like reckless driving in areas where first responders or roadside response vehicles are present.
Second, it creates an "emergency response area" similar to a work zone, and allows first responders to slow down traffic in the area.
And lastly, Shankland's plan requires the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WDOT) educate drivers about any changes, as well as the general risks involved in driving when first responders are on the side of the road.
“This bill strives to protect our first responders and roadside workers from danger by creating an emergency response area, similar to a work zone, in which first responders can slow down traffic by reducing the speed limit, and where fines would double for speeding, reckless driving, and other traffic violations, including using a cell phone while driving," Shankland said.
The current penalty for reckless driving in Wisconsin is a ticket that starts as low as $25 and goes up to $200 for a first offense. If a driver hits someone, the penalty can jump to 3½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
The WDOT reports the state sees about 200 crashes involving first responders each year.