GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Wisconsin drivers now face more severe penalties for distracted driving, traffic violations and speeding around emergency vehicles and first responders.

Rep. Joel Kitchens (R-Sturgeon Bay) explained, “It really is about protecting those that protect us. Those people are really putting themselves in dangerous situations so I think it’s incumbent on us to do everything we can to protect them.”

The bipartisan law states that people need to slow down and move over within 500 feet of an emergency vehicle.

Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton) said “It provides additional penalties for people that don’t slow down and move over in a zone where there is an emergency vehicle working, whether that be a tow truck, EMS or first responders.”

The bill acts as a deterrent and increases fines to up to $10,000 and includes a possibility of jail time.

“The idea here is to provide a really strong deterrent so that people pay attention and they realize that when people are working a helping those emergency rescue workers on the side of the road it is our responsibility as citizens to slow down and move over and to provide that safe buffer,” said Snodgrass.

This bill became law after multiple incidents occurred involving first responders and their vehicles.

Kitchens said, “It really is timely and we heard in the hearings of some tragic incidents where people, very often they were talking on the phone, just this week since the bill was signed there have been four incidents around the state.”

Representative Kitchens did clarify that hands-free cell phone use is still allowed on Wisconsin roads.

The Department of Transportation will be required to educate the public on the new penalties.

Senator Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan) sent Local Five a statement explaining why this bill is important to her and her constituents, “Far too often we hear tragic stories like the one of Larry Millard, a volunteer firefighter from the Endeavor-Moundville Fire Department, who in service to his community responded to an accident site six years ago and never returned home after being struck by a car that failed to move over.”

She continued saying, “In working on this bill, I’ve heard first responders say they would much rather run into a burning building than work on an accident on the side of the road, and that is just not acceptable. I’m proud to see this legislation signed into law that will add protections to keep our first responders from unnecessary and preventable danger.”