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Is this a good law that's a victim of bad reporting, fueled by a lawmaker's hyberbole? Or is this an attack on the First Amendment by the Illinois house?

Would the Illinois bill prohibit pictures like this one from Maryland's Beltway? Maybe or maybe not.

Previous coverage & discusson of cameras at incident scenes can be found here, here, here, herehere, here & here

This morning two readers sent me articles from Illinois that, on the surface, look like overkill or a politician's cover for a different agenda. Reading the news coverage it gives you the impression that Rep. Tom Holbrook, a Democrat from Belleville, was able to get a bill past an Illinois House committee that would ban most picture taking within 500 feet of an accident scene. 

According to the news coverage, Holbrook believes amateur photographers are just getting in the way of emergency personnel. The law maker described it this way to WBBM Radio in Chicago, “Putting your cell phone over the firemen’s shoulders as he’s using the jaws of life, maybe to get your grandmother of the front seat of her car while she’s bleeding.”

There is no doubt that there are a large number of cameras at emergency scenes these days carried by both the first responders and the public. And members of each group have done stupid things with those cameras. I pointed one out recently where a driver rode past a bunch of police cars on the shoulder of the road and under a burning overpass on the Capital Beltway in Maryland while his passenger shot video of the truck engulfed in flames that was the source of the fire. Stupid, stupid stuff.

My first reaction was this law would fight stupidity with stupidity. Lawmakers willing to solve a problem that has many other remedies by launching an assault on the First Amendment (and Mr. Holbrook I don't think the public is putting cameras on the shoulders of firefighters … yet). The Supreme Court just ruled 8 to 1 on Wednesday that those vicious idiots from the Westboro Baptist Church have the right to protest at military funerals (as much as it hurts, the Supreme Court is right), yet the Illinois lawmakers want to ban taking pictures of a scene that is in public view. Something isn't right here.

But wait, that may not be the case and if what I am finding online about this bill is correct, this may make perfect sense.

(Hold on here. Has Dave lost his mind? The man who always defends the rights of those scumbag news photographers thinks it's okay to ban picture taking? Read on folks.)

Looking at the Illinois General Assembly website I find one bill by Tom Holbrook that somewhat fits this description. It is titled "VEH CD-ACCIDENTS:NO CELL PHNES". Here's the summary:

Amends the Illinois Vehicle Code. Provides that no person may use a wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle within 500 feet of an emergency scene except for specified purposes. Adds digital photographs and video to the definition of "electronic message" in provisions prohibiting the use of electronic communication devices while operating a motor vehicle. Effective immediately.

What I am getting from this is they want to ban the operator of a motor vehicle from taking pictures while driving when approaching an incident. Am I wrong in my interpretation? Doesn't seem to prohibit the passenger or anyone else from snapping away.

That appears to be quite a different animal from what is implied in the news coverage. I guess if you already are restricting cell phone use while driving, limiting picture taking by the driver isn't that bad of an idea. Seems it will increase safety for first responders, if nothing else.

Now, I admit my limited investigation of this may be missing some important facts. It could be my reporting that is suspect and not the articles from Illinois. But that's what I have so far. We will keep you informed if there is actually more to this and another bill that is a bit more sinister.


Comments - Add Yours

  • Doug

    I’m curious if first responders in Holbrook’s area see a need for this. Do they see a valid need, or is this just a politician trying to impose his view on others?

  • pipenozzle

    Consider this. The Triangle Fire occurred 100 years ago and got necessary publicity because an Associated Press reporter was in lower Manhattan a block from the Asch Building and was literally phoning (yes, they had phones in 1911)in the story from across the street form the fire as the jumpers hit the pavement (see the whole story at

    Drivers should not be using cell phones for any reason while driving, but limiting photography of any kind by a vehicle passenger is a violation of the First Amendment. If journalists, professional or amateur, get in the way of emergency operations, they get arrested. No additional limits are needed nor are they constitutional. And how would this 500 foot radius be established and enforced if a law that foolish and unconstitutional were passed?

  • Too Old To Work

    Bad law. Bad, bad, politician, no earmarks for you. This is just as bad as the trend of police departments (and some fire departments) using encrypted communications on routine dispatch channels. The public has the right to see and hear what the people who pay their salaries are doing.

  • RJ

    bad all around. i was detained by a police officer for taking pictures at a fire scene because the officer “didnt think it was right” i went to internal affairs and simply askd that LEO’s be informed what the law is and it was swept under the rug. i have been shooting emergency scenes for over 39 years and this is a real slippery slope for PS photogtaphers and civilians excercising their rights

  • Karl4606

    The text says “While operating”, not while IN an operating vehicle. Clearly doesn’t include passengers. BUT since it is obviously directed at a public emergency scene situation I agree with the slippery slope concern. The real public safety issue is taking the pictures, etc while operating a motor vehicle anytime, anywhere, not just at an emergency.

    BTW, railfan photographers face the same overzealous police activity as well.

    • dave statter


      I agree with you on the slippery slope and am very aware of the railfan issue. Unfortunately too many people in our country have decided that the First Amendment isn’t all that important. In the name of security (or a hatred of the press) it is okay to put these decisions in the hand of armed agents of our governments (local, state and federal).

      I am with you on this.


  • RJ

    FOLLOW UP COMMENT : my go plan to being stopped from taking pictures at an emergency scene by law enforcement is to (if i’m on public property) is to ignore them unless i’m physically detained, then if i’m arrested persue it in the courts to the fullest and seek a trial in the public eye beacuse if i’m on PUBLIC PROPERTY (on a sidewalk or a street) and i’m not interfering on operations, i’m gonna shoot video or pictures, PERIOD!