Drivers hit more parked squad cars this year than in all of 2018, state police say

JOLIET, Ill. — An Illinois State Police trooper was injured when a motorist hit his squad car on I-80 south of Chicago Sunday, in the 13th incident of drivers crashing into stationary squad cars this year.

The ISP says they are seeing a spike in crashes involving parked squad cars and passing vehicles, despite a law meant to make roads safer for emergency responders. Only 76 days into 2019, the number of incidents has already exceeded yearly totals from last year. In 2018, eight squads were hit, in 2017 it was 12, and in 2016 in was five.

Before Sunday's crash near Joliet, a trooper turned on his emergency lights while pulling over an auto. The two vehicles were on the shoulder of the westbound lanes of I-80, and the trooper was still in the squad car when it was struck in the rear. The vehicle pulled over by the trooper was also struck.

Forty-five-year-old Rodolfo Mejia of Channahon was charged with driving under the influence and failing to slow and change lanes. Authorities say the trooper and the 45-year-old Mejia were treated for non-life threatening injuries at a hospital.

Most crashes this year occurred when it was dark, according to police. Injuries were reported in nine cases, while a January crash resulted in the death of Trooper Christopher Lambert, 34. Lambert had gotten out of his squad car to respond to a three-vehicle crash when a car struck him, authorities said.

"It is difficult to speculate what may be driving the surge of crashes," State Police Sgt. Delila Garcia said in an statement emailed to the Chicago Tribune. Garcia said driving too fast or driving under the influence could be factors.

Distracted driving and a lack of awareness of the law could also be contributing to the surge, said Kathleen Lane, senior director of public relations at the National Safety Council, a nonprofit that focuses on health and safety issues.

Scott's Law, which is also known as the Move Over Law, requires motorists to slow down and move over when there's a stopped vehicle with flashing or hazard lights. Enacted in 2001, the law is named after Lt. Scott Gillen, a Chicago firefighter who was killed on-duty by a drunk driver.

"There is a lot of confusion over what the Move Over Law states and whether it is a law," Lane said. "There's a patchwork system of what you are supposed to do when you come across an emergency vehicle."

Versions of the Move Over Law can be found across the U.S., according to the American Automobile Association. Some states require drivers to change lanes even when a stopped emergency vehicle doesn't have lights activated.

Whatever the cause, police ask for members of the public  who see emergency vehicles with their lights activated to slow down, and move over if possible.

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