LASALLE — Illinois State Police Sgt. John Morscheiser II grabs his trooper hat and prepares to exit his vehicle onto Interstate 80 to speak with a driver he clocked going 16 miles above the speed limit.
He opens the door slightly and looks behind him, toward what he says is the greatest hazard any Illinois State trooper faces: oncoming traffic.
Once the road is clear, he walks over to the vehicle and speaks with the driver before walking back to his clearly visible and illuminated Illinois State Police SUV.
He pauses in front of the vehicle on the side of the road.
A truck with an attached trailer whizzes by a few feet from the officer at more than 70 mph, shaking both Morscheiser’s vehicle and that of the driver who was pulled over.
Once the road is cleared again, he steps back into his vehicle.
“He could have gotten over,” Morscheiser said. “Like I said, it’s constant.”
Morscheiser agreed to let a Times reporter ride with him for a four-hour stretch to understand not only the dangers of passing vehicles on the side of the roads at high speeds but also the high number of people who do it.
In just one instance of a traffic stop, five vehicles raced past the police vehicle in the right lane at speeds breaking 70 mph. That’s also not counting the number of vehicles topping the speed limit in the left lane, where drivers are still expected to reduce their speed.
“They’re not going by me with ‘due caution’ as the law says,” he added.
Morscheiser was on his own at this stop and was unable to educate those particular drivers of what’s known as “Scott’s Law” or the “Move Over Law” that requires drivers coming up on an emergency vehicle to proceed with “due caution” by changing lanes if possible and reducing speed.
Other laws also request the same due caution for passing others on the side of the road such as construction vehicles, passenger vehicles, disabled vehicles and more.
“If you’ve ever had a flat tire on the side of the interstate and people are just constantly (rushing by), you’ll know why it’s important,” Morscheiser said.
And this doesn’t mean drivers speeding 85 mph should slow down to 70 mph. Morscheiser adds he doesn’t want drivers hitting their brakes to go 30 mph and cause an accident, but generally he likes to see drivers cognizant of their environment by slowing down to a comfortable speed, with both hands on the steering wheel and driving in a relatively straight line as the road allows.
Whether a driver gets a warning or a citation is up to officer discretion, according to Morscheiser, and the situation in which the driver violates the law, but citations often come with a mandatory court appearance and a fine of no less than $100 and no more than $10,000.
He’s had his own close calls with vehicles on the road, but violations of Scott’s Law have picked up an increased focus after the deaths of three state troopers in three months this year.
Illinois State Police District 17 troopers issued 50 citations for Scott’s Law violations since Feb. 1 of this year, and issued three citations over the same time period last year.
The district has not had any vehicle hit in 2019, but the recent deaths of Troopers Christopher Lambert, Brooke Jones-Story and Gerald Ellis have served as a wake-up call for some.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily changed what I do, but you do remember what we’re doing out here,” Morscheiser said. “You do get a little complacent, you try not to get a little too comfortable out here, but anything can happen at any time, so you want to keep your head on a swivel.”
The increase in citations is rippling through the entire state with the Illinois State Police stating on Facebook troopers have issued 2,558 citations since the beginning of the year, which is an increase compared to the 339 that were issued over the same period last year.
Morscheiser said they’ve been educating for many years but he’s been leaning more toward citations lately rather than warnings due to the number of troopers who have already been hit in 2019.
“It’s being blasted so far now with media and social media. If somebody’s not familiar with it, they must live under a rock as it’s been blasted in all sorts of outlets,” Morscheiser said.
Morscheiser parks his vehicle behind Illinois State Police Officer Casey Huebbe, who had another vehicle pulled over on the side of the road, for the sole purpose of conducting Scott’s Law stops for the day.
In short order, a large truck passes on the right side of the road at high speeds near Huebbe’s vehicle despite having space in the left lane to get over and seeing two police vehicles with lights activated.
Morscheiser drives after the truck and pulls over the driver. The Texan driver said he was familiar with Scott’s Law but misjudged how far back the car behind him was. Morscheiser opted for an educational moment this time and let him off with a warning.
Morscheiser said while the department is handing out more citations lately, ultimately the main goal is to inform others and keep everyone driving on the roads safe.
As he continues to watch traffic every time he steps out of his vehicle, it’s his hope that drivers drop cellphones as well as their speeds and be mindful of their surroundings.
Not only for his safety and the safety of his fellow officers, but also for their own.
“Everybody’s busy, everybody’s got a place to be but the most important thing is to arrive at your destination safe,” Morscheiser said. “It seems like everybody has an excuse for their actions, but at the end of the day, is it really worth it to save yourself 30 seconds or a couple of minutes here or there?”