The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 02, 2003

State's get-tough law on work-zone speeders gets first court review

By The Building Tradesman

Michigan's new law imposing tougher penalties on work zone speeders who injure or kill road workers is being applied for the first time in the courts.

Enacted on Oct. 1, 2001, Public Act 103 creates penalties of up to one year in prison for injuring and up to 15 years behind bars for killing a highway construction or maintenance worker. Michigan was the first state in the nation to adopt such stiff penalties.

Now, Stacey Ann Bettcher, 31, of Macomb Township is the first person to be charged under the law. Jury selection in Macomb Circuit Court began April 17. While driving on a restricted license, Bettcher is accused of killing Tanya Loewen, 26, a civil engineer from Canada, on Aug. 9, 2002. In the same accident, she also severely injured William Hattan, 41, of Portland, Mich. They were working on the shoulder of I-94 near Joy Road in Harrison Township.

The new statute is called "Andy's Law," named after Andrew Lefko, a 19-year-old road worker who was paralyzed after being hit while working on I-275. The law also imposed fines of $7,500 on guilty motorists.

State law says that in order to be charged under Andy's Law, the driver must be committing a moving violation that carries a criminal penalty. For example, a driver must be traveling under the influence of drugs or alcohol, have a restricted, suspended or revoked license, or be driving recklessly. Excessive speed and driving "carelessly" do not carry criminal penalties, so they do not apply under this law.

Examples include driving on a suspended, restricted or revoked license; driving recklessly or driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Speeding or driving carelessly are not included since they do not carry criminal penalties.

"When someone approaches a construction zone, we want them to realize it's time to put down the coffee, stop tuning the radio, slow down and put two hands on the wheel," said the Michigan Road Builders Association's Mike Eckert.

In the effort to get motorists to slow down, Michigan in 1996 doubled the fines of speeders through work zones. In 2002, state law was changed that increased points for drivers who speed by construction workers. Up to five points can be assessed for speeders who travel 15 mph or more through work zones.