Lawmakers introduce bill to protect first responders on Wisconsin roadways


MADISON (WKOW) -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Monday to protect first responders and roadside workers.

The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point), would strengthen penalties for traffic violations like reckless driving in areas where emergency or roadside response vehicles are present and personnel are at risk from traffic.

The legislation would create an emergency response area, similar to a work zone, in which first responders can slow down traffic by reducing the speed limit.

In an emergency response area, fines would double for speeding, reckless driving, and other traffic citations.

Just as in a work zone, the bill would prohibit cell phone use while driving in an emergency response area, with the same penalties applying.

Additionally, this bill further protects first responders and other workers on or near a roadway, like tow truck drivers and construction workers, by stiffening penalties for striking, injuring, or killing a worker. Under the bill, if a driver causes bodily harm to workers engaged in highway maintenance, construction, utility work, emergency response, or roadside response, they may be fined up to $10,000 or jailed for 9 months, or both. Additionally, a court may also order 100-200 hours of community service and mandatory traffic school.

The bill also requires the DOT to educate the public about these changes and the risks associated with not moving over, reducing speed, and putting away their cell phones in emergency response areas.

This legislation comes months after fire officials pushed for lawmakers to hold drivers more accountable for hitting a first responder.