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Lawmakers discuss legalities of ignoring road closures 


During Wyoming winters it is pretty common for roads to be closed, but sometimes people choose to ignore the closures. So, lawmakers are considering amending a bill to make the outcome stricter for those who ignore closures.

Currently the law reads that you have to ‘willfully’ fail to observe any road closures in order to break the law, but lawmakers are proposing to remove the word ‘willfully’ as it implies intent, which can be hard to prove. Instead, the new language would include any person who ‘disobeys’ or ‘disregards’ road closures.

Josh Walther, lieutenant colonel with the Wyoming Highway Patrol, testified to the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee on Wed. Jan. 18. He said the new changes would give more teeth to the law. He gave the example of Teton Pass, where there are usually six large signs indicating the road is closed.

“To say you missed them is pretty rough,” Walther said. “But again, folks are standing in court and saying, ‘Well, it wasn't willful, I didn't willfully fail to observe the sign, you know, and so it gets dropped.’”

However, some lawmakers took issue with road closures as a concept, arguing the state is ‘babying’ drivers. Rep. Dalton Banks (R-Cowley) said people should be able to make their own decision whether to drive in hazardous conditions.

“We're stopping people from going home to their families is basically what it amounts to,” Banks said. “And I understand the safety aspect of it, but, are we going to, for lack of a better term, baby, everybody who drives on our roads?”

The current fine for ignoring road closures is up to $750 or an imprisonment of up to 30 days. Lawmakers discussed increasing the fine amount, but ultimately decided the crux of the issue is not money, but rather safety.

The bill ultimately passed out of committee and will now go to the House floor.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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