New designer crime posed for safer Missouri highways

Overhead view of a lane closure on east bound I-44 from an overpass between Joplin and Springfield on March 2.

Greg Salzer

Overhead view of a lane closure on east bound I-44 from an overpass between Joplin and Springfield on March 2.

JEFFERSON CITY – Persons found responsible for endangering state highway workers would face stiffer penalties if Senate Bill 313 becomes law.

Sen. Jon Dolan (R-St. Charles County) presented his bill, which modifies current law and creates the crime of “endangerment of a highway worker,” to the Senate Transportation Committee March 1.

“We have had serious offences where people have driven up to the shin or back of a highway worker, flag person, pulled right up and nudged their car into them,” Dolan said. “We have had people with road rage and other things going on that just really put the workers in danger.”

This act would add a $75 fine, or add $300 if highway workers were present, to any other fine currently authorized by law on a person’s second or subsequent moving violation in a work zone.

“Endangerment of a highway worker” is a Class A misdemeanor, with up to one year in jail, if no injuries occurs because of an offense.

Offenses resulting in the injury of a highway worker would be a Class D felony, and offenses involving a fatality would be a Class C felony.

“We can make good cause and show how the increase in injuries is affecting our workers,” Dolan said, “People are not taking MoDot construction zones seriously.”

“Specifying it as endangerment of a highway worker, attaching certain crimes to it, goes far beyond the typical careless and imprudent driving $80 ticket that is currently given, if that,” Dolan said.

On average, the Missouri Department of Transportation has 1.2 worker fatalities per year. The five-year work zone fatality trend shows while it went down between 2002 and 2003, the trend has jumped.

“The real goal is to enhance the crime,” Dolan said.

Prosecutors will have the discretion to apply the statute as needed.

“The idiots that are behaving very aggressively are not going to be deterred,” Sen. Matt Bartle (R-Jackson), a member of the Senate Transportation committee, said.

“I think we would be better off getting great big flashing signs … that has really compelling messages that combine ‘we are going to hang you from an oak tree if you hurt one of our people’ and ‘my mom works two-hundred yards away, please drive safely.'”

Other state laws were discussed as effecting the way Missouri highway workers look at current Missouri laws.

Illinois has signs stating, “Hit a worker, 14 years in jail, $10,000 fine.”

“Our laws make the penalty for careless and imprudent in a work zone the equivalent to littering on a highway,” Don Hillis said.

Concerns about public compliance were discussed at the hearing.

“It absolutely kills public compliance with these types of provision when the public will drive down a stretch of road and they can not see any workers,” Bartle said.

Transportation supervisors appearing to support the bill stressed over the last three years considerable amounts of time have been spent managing work zones.

The Transportation Committee will vote on the bill later before being sending it to the full Senate.