‘I hope they’re thinking about us out there’: Wisconsin first responders warn about dangers of cell phone use driving by crashes

MADISON, Wis. —  It can be hard to resist pulling out your phone and hitting record when driving by a crash. Just last year, that specific form of distracted driving became illegal in Wisconsin, but dozens were still caught doing so at a crash site this week.

Now, officials are issuing a fresh reminder: cut it out. 

It may sound like common sense to stay off your phone when driving, but on Wednesday, the Wisconsin State Patrol had to remind 12 drivers with citations. They were caught trying to record a crash on Interstate 39/90/94 near Arlington in Columbia County.

Inattentive driving is “incredibly frustrating,” Trooper Lawrence Horwood said.

“If we have other vehicles slowing down, perhaps trying to take a look or take a picture of what is happening in the crash… that in itself could cause another crash which means it delays us from responding to somebody who is potentially having life-threatening injuries,” he said.  

When Sun Prairie Fire Captain Kevin Dehmer heard of so many driving so recklessly by an accident, “it just reiterates that yeah, that happens. And it happens a lot.”  

One word kept coming to his mind: frustrating.

Late last year, Gov. Tony Evers even signed a bill making it against state law. Drivers face a misdemeanor for using their phones within 500 feet of a crash, and they could be hit with up to $10,000 in fines, 9 months in jail and up to 200 hours of community service. 

RELATED: New Wisconsin law penalizes cell phone use near crash scenes 

“There’s enough distractions with us, the trucks, the lights, you have police officers, ambulance, tow truck drivers sometimes,” Captain Dehman said.  

It also puts all those involved trying to save lives at risk when mere feet separate them from speeding traffic.

“It’s just really hard to do what we’re trying to do up on the highway and then you’re trying to watch your back at the same time,” Dehman said.

He joins other officials in begging people to resist the urge to gawk at a crash and put their phones down.  

“I hope they’re thinking about us out there,” he said, “because it’s dangerous.”