Too distracted to drive: Our cameras catch drivers failing to yield in emergencies

First responders say too many drivers aren't pulling over or slowing down for vehicles on emergency calls
Updated: Apr. 15, 2022 at 5:00 PM CDT
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BROWN COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Action 2 News cameras were rolling as a Brown County deputy showed us a dangerous problem: drivers oblivious to police lights and sirens, slowing the response to emergencies.

Only on Action 2 News, we look into the growing problem of people too distracted to drive.

As sirens blare, we start the clock. Dash camera video captured the view from behind the wheel as a Brown County deputy races to a 911 call for an unconscious person in the road in Southern Brown County.

The driver of a truck in front of the deputy doesn’t seem to notice the flashing lights and loud siren and doesn’t move over.

It’s January. Road conditions are snowy. It’s a two-lane rural road. The deputy has no option but to wait.

About 30 seconds later the driver sees the deputy and taps the brakes, moving over to let him pass.

Three weeks later, a similar scene as another deputy merges onto I-41 to a call involving a gun. There’s a lot of traffic, but he moves all the way to the left so traffic can go right.

All but one of the drivers see him. The deputy tries to go around a car on the shoulder, but the driver hits the brakes and moves left before letting him through.

“That’s the frustrating part is it’s very common for our officers to run into that,” said Capt. Dan Sandberg, Brown County Sheriff’s Office.

As the director of patrol for the Brown County Sheriff’s Office, Capt. Dan Sandberg hears it from his officers frequently.

“It’s way too common,” said Deputy Justin Raska.

Action 2 News got in squad with Deputy Raska and headed onto I-43 where he often runs traffic enforcement.

“It normally takes a couple minutes to find somebody going 85-90,” says Raska.

It doesn’t take long to spot speeding. Once it is safe, we pull into the left lane. Raska activates the sirens. There’s a white car in the way. The deputy is exasperated, throwing his hands in the air as we pass.

Sirens still sounding and lights flashing, we approach a red SUV. The driver does not slow down.

The vehicles are in another lane of travel, but Raska knows he as to approach cautiously in case a vehicle makes a sudden move. Raska trains other officers in emergency driving.

These drivers do not slow down. We pass them quickly before making a traffic stop.

Raska says, “Wo what did we have? Two vehicles that didn’t pull over for our lights or sirens?”

We don’t know the reasons the drivers didn’t seem to notice his squad. Our cameras capture video that concerns emergency workers.

“It specifically says when an emergency vehicle is approaching from the rear, displaying that visual and audible signal, that you are to pull to the right, parallel to the curb and stop while that vehicle is passed,” says Raska.

Why don’t people move? Distractions.

“It’s one of two things: they’re just plain not paying attention or they’re on their phones. It’s a 50-50 shot. They’re just... they’re not paying attention,” says Sandberg.

Sandberg argues drivers should see emergency vehicles approaching. He understands that sometimes they are coming fast or it’s hard to hear sirens because of speed and distance.

There is another reason.

“Or you have people wearing ear plugs now and listening to music as they’re driving and stuff,” says Sandberg.

Raska says, “It’s obvious when you see somebody driving past you and they have the little white earbuds in.”

Raska says there’s no state law banning the use of headphones while driving. If wearing them causes an accident, it would violate distracted driving laws.

The other excuse he hears: the radio is too loud to hear the sirens. So here’s a comparison: normal conversation is about 60 decibels, a loud radio around 85 decibels, police sirens when an officer is right behind a car are 110 to 120 decibels.

“They can’t hear you to pull over and they don’t see it in their mirrors,” says Raska.

Sandberg says. “People have so much that is going on inside their cars that doesn’t pertain to actual driving. That’s the frustrating part.”

With dash cam rolling, drivers who don’t move can be ticketed later. That’s not the goal. Attention is the goal. Every second they have to wait behind a distracted driver is another second delayed responding to an emergency. Sometimes that’s all the time they have.

MORE COVERAGE: FIRST ALERT EXCLUSIVE: Highway worker’s brush with death an urgent message for drivers

We can hear the sirens but some drivers say they don't. It's a dangerous problem.

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