State lawmakers are considering a bill that would penalize drivers who ignore roadblocks and plunge their vehicles into flooded roadways, endangering their lives and taxing local rescuers.The bill would levy a $250 to $500 fine for violations along with two points on a driver’s license and the cost of any rescue that is required, The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News said. The state House approved the measure last month and sent it to the Senate for consideration.
“People are driving around these barricades and endanger themselves and the first responders who come to help them,” said Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, the bill’s sponsor, told the paper.
Stephens said he decided to propose the measure after hearing about the “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” campaign through the National Weather Service.
“It only takes a few inches of water. Once your car is floating downstream, you’re in trouble,” he said.
Don Konkle, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fire and Emergency Services Institute, called the bill an “excellent piece of legislation.” He said such incidents often happen as first responders are already trying to deal with flood damage, houses struck by lightning and downed trees and power lines.
Todd Bashore, police chief for East Pennsboro Township, was among local police chiefs who said they support the proposal.
“When drivers get stuck out there, they are putting emergency responders at risk who have to go out there and save them,” he said. “Any harsher penalty for someone who violates that is great.”
Konkle said that during 37 years at the Harrisburg Fire Department, firefighters were sent about five times a year to rescue people who had ignored signs for flooded areas. Sometimes, he said, people drove into a flooded area while first responders were there trying to rescue someone else.
“They would just drive right by a firetruck and into the water,” he said. “The lack of common sense on occasion is astounding.”
He said, however, that he didn’t think the new penalties in the bill would discourage people from calling for help in an emergency.
“Most people are frightened, don’t worry about the cost of dialing 911 at the moment,” he said. “Hopefully this bill will save lives in the future.”
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