PEORIA, Ill. — When it comes to joking with his audience, and even poking some fun at himself and his profession, Illinois State Police Master Sergeant Todd Armstrong can jest with the best.
But Armstrong turned serious — and even slightly emotional — when it came to a topic that has come too close to home for him.
“Please. Please have not just your drivers but yourselves, your family, slow down and get over,” said Armstrong during a panel discussion updating laws, rules and regulations.
Armstrong joined Dan Meyer, the Illinois division administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and Tom Wise of the Illinois Department of Transportation, for the panel at the 2019 Mid-West Truckers Association Truck and Trailer Show.
“Yesterday we had our fifth trooper of the year get hit on the side of the road,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said his message was directed at all drivers, regardless of the vehicle they are driving. He urged the audience to remind their friends and family to move over and slow down when they encounter an emergency vehicle on the side of the road. Those can range from police cars to fire and rescue vehicles to wreckers and road maintenance vehicles, including IDOT vehicles.
“This is going to be your family, your kids, your aunts, uncles, moms and dads, make sure they know they have to get over and slow down when they approach any emergency vehicle, including tow trucks. It’s state law in Illinois,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong’s plea will be backed up by action from the Illinois State Police.
“I am telling you right now, you are about to see an enforcement blitz that you have ever seen. You better warn your drivers,” Armstrong said.
He emphasized that the penalties, which include fines and revocation of drivers’ licenses, will be enforced.
“There are no warnings for this,” he said.
At the show, Armstrong wasn’t the only one promoting the message of safety for roadside emergency workers. A new campaign by the Illinois Tollway called “Give Them Distance,” aims to get the public involved through social media posts to raise awareness of the state law that requires drivers to slow down and move over for emergency vehicles.
The effort includes a website, GiveThemDistance.com, as well as a yellow banner that the agency’s representatives are taking around the state to different events. The campaign invites drivers to take a self in front of the banner, post it on their social media accounts and then invite family and friends to pledge to give distance to emergency vehicles.
The campaign has a Twitter account, @GiveDistanceIL; a Facebook page, GiveThemDistance; and a hashtag, #GiveThemDistance.
On Jan. 12, on I-294 near Willow Road near the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, State Police Trooper Christopher Lambert was struck and killed as he stopped to assist a three-vehicle crash. Lambert, who was off-duty and heading home, was struck by a vehicle driven by Scott A. Larsen, 61, of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
According to reports, Larsen tried to pass on the left side of the crash. His vehicle struck Lambert, Lambert’s squad car and several other cars.
Lambert was pronounced dead at a hospital later from his injuries. Larsen has been charged with felony reckless homicide and also with violation of Scott’s Law. Larsen is free on $250,000 bond.
Scott’s Law, the “move over and slow down” law, is named after Scott Gillen, a Chicago Fire Department firefighter, who was struck and killed at an accident scene in December 2000 by a passing vehicle.
The law increases penalties for drivers who fail to slow down, change lanes and yield or who cause accidents or injury to emergency personnel at the scene of roadside emergencies.
The law requires motorists in all vehicles to slow down, yield the right of way by changing lanes, if possible, to all vehicles displaying emergency lights, including highway maintenance vehicles and wreckers.