Gov. Evers visits Amherst to sign roadside responder safety bill

By Heather Poltrock

AMHERST, Wis. (WSAW) - Gov. Tony Evers was in Amherst to sign 2021 AB 297 into law on Monday.

The governor was joined by Democratic Rep. Katrina Shankland, of Stevens Point and other local elected leaders, first responders, roadside assistance workers, and construction and utility workers.

“Many of the jobs are hazardous enough on their own without having to fear for your life due to a distracted or dangerous driver,” said Governor Tony Evers, “at every crash site, our states emergency responders whether it’s fire, law enforcement, EMS, towing and transportation, are at risk of being struck, injured, or even killed.”

This bill was initiated when Amherst Fire Department Assistant Chief Brian Swan reached out to Rep. Katrina Shankland and other area legislators to discuss first responder safety during roadside responses.

Assistant Chief Swan and Amherst Fire Chief Victor Voss were the driving force behind this bill, and Plover and Stevens Point Fire Departments also came to the Capitol to lend their support as it moved through the legislative process.

“We met like 6 times through the summer and we hammered out the law you see in front of you,” said Brian Swan, assistant chief of the Amherst Fire Department.

The bill creates a new emergency response zone and strengthens 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 also bans cell phone use while driving within the area of an incident and would mirror the penalties for speeding, cell phone use, and other infractions in a construction zone.

Finally, the bill requires the DOT to educate the public about these changes and the risks associated with failing to move over, reduce speed, and using their cell phones in emergency response areas.