Crash Zone Safety Act Helps Keep Emergency Responders Safe on the Roadside

Answering the concerns of local firefighters, Senator Tom Libous held a press conference at the Prospect Terrance Fire Department to introduce his “Crash Zone Safety Act”. The bill is designed to help keep emergency responders safer while they’re saving lives.

Existing law tells drivers to slow down and move over, but the new bill would establish a specific 500-foot emergency zone for the crash site and beef up penalties for violators. The law also creates an education program so new and experienced drivers are more aware of roadside hazards and how to keep emergency workers safe.

“Every day, firefighters, police and emergency workers respond to accidents only a couple feet from traffic going 60 mph,” Libous said. “At that speed, they’re an eye blink away from serious injury or even death.”

Afton’s Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Sherman hopes the bill will help his firefighters and emergency personnel do their jobs while protecting their safety.

"We've had several occasions on I-88 where members of our crew have had close calls,” said Sherman. "As Assistant Fire Chief not only do I have a responsibility to help those who need it, but I also have a duty to keep our crew safe. Too many times we've been put in risky situations because drivers are not proceeding through a crash site with caution. An accident scene is dangerous, especially depending on weather conditions. We thank Senator Libous for hearing our concerns.”

The Crash Zone Safety Act includes the follow provisions:

  • Requires drivers must slow down to a minimum of 20 mph below the normal speed limit and give wide berth to emergency vehicles responding to an accident.
  • Creates an education program to make sure drivers are aware of the new law.
  • Violators are subject to triple damages if they’re sued for damages of death, personal injury or property damage.
  • Violators also face a mandatory surcharge of $100 to $250 in addition to any traffic fine. That money will go directly to an Emergency Zone Safety Education Fund.
  • Repeat offenders can face vehicular assault, vehicular manslaughter and criminal mischief charges.

“Responding to emergency situations is tough enough without the additional dangers caused by reckless or inexperienced drivers in crash zones,” said Broome County Legislator Scott Baker (District 2 - Windsor). “As a member of the West Windsor Fire Company and Chairman of the County Legislature’s Public Safety & Emergency Services Committee I see firsthand how important it is for drivers to use extreme caution when approaching accident scenes. I applaud Senator Libous for taking a leadership role to protect our first responders.”

“I’d like to thank Senator Libous for this legislation,” said New York State Professional Fire Fighter Association President Mike McManus. “I represent over 18,000 professional fire fighters across the state – the job is dangerous enough without having to look over your shoulder when responding to a call on the highway. There’s no doubt that in the future this legislation could prevent serious injury or worse.

Nationwide, 136 police officers were killed between 2004 and 2013 at roadside emergencies and traffic stops, including Port Dickinson Officer Aldo Rossi in 2008, struck as he was marking a downed tree on Route 7 in the village.

Firefighters, medics, fire police and tow truck operators all face similar danger, like Town of Maine Fire Police Officer Joe Vargason, who was killed in June 2001 when he was struck by a car while directing traffic at a fire scene.

“When I hear the dangers – the horrors, really – that the Afton volunteers and other emergency service workers face every time they respond to a roadside accident, I knew we needed to do more,” Libous said. “Recent tragedies just highlight the dangers emergency workers face every day. We need to do everything we can to make them safer.”

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10/21/2014 - 1:32pm