Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of law enforcement officer injuries and an increasing cost to many departments. The expense of repairing newer vehicles has increased dramatically as their additional safety features are more expensive to fix and high profile crashes can lead to litigation. A recent study identified areas of fleet safety improvement that can help reduce safety and performance.
- Nearly all state law enforcement officers reported receiving in-service training annually; however, less than one third received any type of motor-vehicle training. The most common type of motor-vehicle training was related to reading and understanding written motor-vehicle policy. Approximately one-third of officers reported hands-on motor-vehicle training like pursuit driving, use of driving course, or emergency vehicle operation courses.
- Officers in larger agencies were significantly more likely to report regular in-service training on motor-vehicle operations.
- Nearly all officers believe that driver training is critical to their safety in the field. Also, only half of officers believed that driver training provided at law enforcement academies adequately prepares officers to safely function in the field, and less than 15% believed that the average academy recruit has sufficient driving skills to operate a law enforcement vehicle.
- Ninety percent of officers reported their agency had a written motor-vehicle policy. However, only two thirds received formal training on the policy.
- The most common element of agency-written motor-vehicle policies was a seatbelt requirement for drivers. The two least common elements were speed restriction when using lights/siren and restricting use of cell phones/mobile devices.
Motor-vehicle Crashes and Roadside Incidents
- Twenty percent of law enforcement officers were in at least one motor-vehicle crash in the prior 3 years. As officers' time in law enforcement increased, the probability of experiencing a motor-vehicle crash significantly decreased.
- Most motor-vehicle crashes occurred during daylight, in clear weather, during non-emergency calls, and at speeds lower than 50 mph.
- State Patrol officers, officers from small agencies (20 or fewer officers), patrol officers, and those working nighttime hours were significantly more likely to report a roadside incident in the prior 3 years.
- The majority of roadside incidents occurred during daylight and in clear weather conditions. Nearly half of roadside incidents occurred during a traffic stop.
- Agencies should consider policies to ensure periodic motor-vehicle training, especially among departments with fewer than 20 officers. One study conducted by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training found that behind-the-wheel motor-vehicle training resulted in the fewest collisions if conducted every 2 years. Officers desire more behind-the wheel motor-vehicle training.
- Approaches for improving the frequency and quality of motor-vehicle training could include the development of a statewide training network, sharing of human and material resources across agencies, identification of fixed training sites, and the utilization of mobile driving simulators.
- Less than half of officers believed that driver training at the academy level adequately prepared them for driving in the field. It is suggested that the state academies conduct an analysis of their training programs to assess the consistency and effectiveness of their motor-vehicle training efforts. The training academies could consider expanding hours of motor-vehicle training and providing more opportunities for hands-on training. Also, to ensure that seatbelt safety practices become second nature for new officers, the state could continue to stress the importance of wearing a seatbelt and the practices associated with buckling/unbuckling while wearing full gear.
- One of the least common components of written motor-vehicle policies was restrictions on cell phone use. Several large agencies have instituted policies to reduce distractions in law enforcement vehicles. While the impact of these policies on officer-involved crashes has not been scientifically evaluated, state-level cell phone bans appear to significantly reduce fatal crash rates. Agencies should consider implementing similar policies that restrict the use of cell phones while officers are engaged in driving tasks.
- Speed restrictions were rarely a part of written policies. Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and California Commission of Peace Officer Standards and Training found that "driving too fast for conditions or in excess of posted speed" was a leading factor in many officer-involved crashes. It is a good practice to give guidance on speed limitations for the environment and in specific types of situations.
Use of Personal Protective Equipment
- Close to twenty percent of all law enforcement personnel still do not wear seatbelts regularly. Agencies should strive to get to 100% by provide feedback when noncompliance is detected and generally promoting the wearing of seatbelts.
- Less than 10% of officers reported regularly wearing reflective gear while outside of a patrol car. The wearing of high-visibility personal protective equipment can significantly reduce an officer's chances of being struck on the roadway. Agencies should encourage officers to wear high-visibility apparel whenever they work in the vicinity of moving vehicles.
- Officers with more law enforcement experience were less likely to have had a motor-vehicle crash in the prior 3 years, more likely to view driving as a dangerous job activity, and more likely to practice safe driving techniques. Agencies should consider implementing a more formal mentoring program.
- Agencies could also consider adding into driving safety training, the personal testimonies of their own officers who have been involved in motor-vehicle crashes.
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Steven Bojan, is the Vice President - Fleet Risk Services, for the Risk Services Division HUB International. To reach Steven or a local HUB risk services expert click here.