By Colonel John Born, Superintendent, Ohio State Highway Patrol
early every state trooper, police officer, deputy sheriff, and constable has arrived on the scene of a tragic motor vehicle crash and been personally changed forever.
In 1987, not long after graduating from the Ohio State Highway Patrol academy, I arrived at my first horrific head-on crash that killed two young college students and critically injured seven others. Both of the young ladies killed, Kimberly and Deanna, weren’t much younger than I was and had attended the same university from which I had graduated. No chance of graduation, no first job, no marriage, no children, and no future life-enriching experiences would be possible for them. My thoughts turned to the unfortunate families I would need to notify. It was at that moment in time, I knew I needed to do more to prevent crashes like that one from happening again. It is that personal experience of being on scene and more importantly in the right place at the right time on the road before a crash occurs, that provides a unique ability for law enforcement agencies to take a greater leadership role in highway safety.
While effective highway safety efforts must blend enforcement, education, engineering, and emergency medical services, law enforcement officers are there when a crash occurs and more importantly can be there before it occurs. We know we can actually stop a tragedy because most crashes are a result of drivers’ poor behavior. We do it when we stop a wrong-way impaired driver; when we change behavior through a safety belt citation; when we stop a recklessly texting teenager. We also know we can improve highway safety while interdicting drugs, criminals, and terrorists. We’ve seen the power of good we can do, and we have long measured our effort and effectiveness in crime and crash reduction.
Statistical measurements of effort and results, combined with law enforcement empowerment, are at the heart of MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century) that provides an unparalleled opportunity for law enforcement to take a greater role in highway safety.1 It is an effort- and results-driven funding approach that fits hand in glove for law enforcement. MAP-21 also provides a strong basis for strengthening existing partnerships and establishing new traffic safety partnerships.
Law Enforcement Leadership in Highway Safety Partnerships
In today’s challenging budgetary environment, results-driven approaches that utilize partnerships are key to maximizing available resources. In Ohio at the beginning of 2013, the Ohio Department of Public Safety integrated sister divisions of the Ohio Investigative Unit (which investigates alcohol violations) and the Ohio Traffic Safety Office (which administers federal traffic safety funds) into more efficient consolidated operations within the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP). As a result of the consolidation and streamlined administration, new traffic safety objectives are now possible.
First, it starts with protecting those who protect others through Traffic Incident Management (TIM).
Those committed to traffic safety are always looking for best practices and methods to make travel safer throughout the world. One program that was introduced in 2002 is called Ohio Quick-Clear and was an attempt to create a TIM program that reduces the duration of road closures for traffic incidents. Although the program generated interest, it became static over time.
The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA’s) TIM program was combined with our program last year. The FHWA provided train-the-trainer sessions for first responders in the fall of 2012. The combination of the FHWA TIM program and our Quick-Clear program provides the basis of our current program. The mission of our program is for the safe and effective flow of traffic during emergencies to prevent further damage, injury, or undue delay of the motoring public. TIM/Quick-Clear had been shared with nearly 500 first responders of all disciplines by the end of 2012. The goal for 2013 is to train another 7,200 of Ohio’s first responders.
Second, the implementation of “traceback” investigations of all alcohol- and druginvolved fatalities (in which we work to find the source of the drugs or alcohol suspected of causing serious crashes) has established Ohio as a forerunner in the United States to examine the potential root causes to all serious crashes caused by impaired drivers. In addition to the crash investigation that holds the driver accountable, those responsible for enabling the impaired driver are being held accountable. The first criminal charges were filed less than a month after the effort began.
Traffic Safety Partnerships and Initiatives with Local Law Enforcement
It cannot be overstated that law enforcement needs to take a greater leadership role in highway safety efforts. Whether in crash investigation, drug trafficking and crime interdiction, or even in ensuring the maximum efficiency of officers in protecting citizens, it is essential we utilize our strengths in assuming leadership roles toward contributing to safer communities across the United States. We also must be responsible stewards of the funds allocated for carrying out those leadership responsibilities.
The Highway Safety Act of 1966 authorized the first federal highway safety program–the State and Community Highway Safety Grant Program (Section 402).2 Since then, Congress has revised national highway safety grant programs many times through reauthorizing legislation, creating new incentive grants, penalties, and sanctions.
Law enforcement has an excellent opportunity through MAP-21 to take a greater leadership role. MAP-21 is the most recent surface transportation statute that authorizes the federal surface transportation programs—including highway safety programs—for federal fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Under MAP-21, states must agree to three new assurances (that is, certifications) in addition to the assurances required under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). These assurances focus on state participation in national mobilizations, establishment of a data-driven enforcement program, and coordination of the plan required under Section 402 with the state’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan.3
As Ohio transitions under Map-21, our traffic safety partners will see a few small modifications in the administration of the grants program that is now aligned under the OSHP. This reorganization streamlines operations while continuing to provide the same high level of service to all grant recipients.
Map-21 requires that states be performance driven and streamline their operations within the traffic safety grant program. Ohio has implemented a regional approach to achieve this goal and has organized the awarded grantees into eight geographic districts or regions. Each region will have a traffic safety committee chaired by the patrol’s district commander. The committee’s membership will include every agency that is awarded federal funds for the current fiscal year within that region. The members will include state and local law enforcement agencies and other non-profit government agencies located within the region. The committee will meet quarterly to review activity from recent blitzes, conduct problem identification, analyze current crash trends involving serious injury and death, create partnerships to improve enforcement efforts for the detection and apprehension of impaired drivers, and coordinate resources to improve seat belt usage and reduce vehicle speeds in problem areas.
This regional approach will not only build positive working relationships between traffic safety partners and all law enforcement agencies receiving federal grant dollars, but also improve communications among agencies and increase the effectiveness of all resources during the high-visibility enforcement efforts throughout the state.
Through this holistic approach to improving traffic safety and reducing traffic deaths throughout the state, many agencies will have access to resources and statistical data that may not have been available to them during their normal operations.
Along with providing a local investment into federal traffic safety funding decisions, sharing resources for traffic safety efforts now includes partnerships related to intelligence services. The OSHP’s “Hub” is a 24-hour command center that serves as a central operating point during critical incidents. The Hub intelligence analysts provided guidance to over 80 agencies in the first year of the effort. Many of those requests came from police officers, deputy sheriffs, and troopers on active traffic stops. The demand for traffic safety and drug interdiction intelligence services has become so critical to Ohio’s law enforcement agencies that a new OSHP intelligence center, staffed 24 hours a day and 7 days a week by seven intelligence analysts, has been expanded within the state Emergency Operations Center in Columbus, Ohio.
Creating and Measuring a Better Balanced Workforce Effort without Quotas
While accountability for the efficient use of federal traffic safety funds by agencies is critical, it is also important for agencies to hold their officers accountable for a balanced and fair effort. That is the basis for the success of the OSHP’s Time Efficiency Value (TEV) initiative.4 The first two years of results, for 2011 and 2012, have been overwhelmingly impressive. With a smaller workforce on the road due to attrition, overall functional activity by troopers rose in 2012 by 111,422 enforcement stops, warnings increased by 80,730, and drug cases from traffic stops rose 3,260. Just as important, the number of impaired-driving arrests rose while the overall proportion of alcohol-related fatalities declined. Also, preliminary data for 2012 indicate troopers seized 110 percent more heroin than in 2011. During 2011 and 2012 combined, troopers seized more than $117 million in illegal drugs and contraband, significantly more than had ever been seized on Ohio roads in a two-year span.
When the TEV was first implemented, there were many more than 200 officers not within minimum efficiency standards. By the end of 2012, that number had decreased to 21. Since the OSHP’s TEV program is based upon a trooper’s time rather than the number of tickets written, the OSHP was able to improve its efficiency and productivity without concerns of a quota system, and the byproduct has been the success of the last two years. Troopers are more active and have a clear understanding of the goals and objectives of the OSHP. The discussion is no longer about how many stops or tickets are expected, but how efficiently the officer is using his or her time. By creating an efficient agency through the implementation of the TEV program, the OSHP has had results never before seen in its history. The citizens of Ohio and those visiting the state are safer as a result.
The critical role of traffic law enforcement includes improving the quality of life by interdicting degrading elements and apprehending those who prey on others. We cannot prevent every fatal crash. But we can and do prevent some and are getting better at preventing more.
Helping our efforts, roadway signs were posted at all interstate entry points and throughout Ohio to promote a method to report drug activity and impaired drivers. That number, #677, now averages nearly 5,000 tips from the public per month.
As a continued investment in this important area, the OSHP will reach its goal of doubling the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) trained troopers, deputies, and police officers within a two-year period. Currently, there are 59 DREs in Ohio, with 24 DREs from the OSHP. By the end of 2014, we expect to have more than 125 DRE officers in Ohio dedicated to removing drug-impaired drivers from Ohio roadways. Additionally, nearly every sergeant and trooper in the OSHP has received Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) training, which provides officers with general knowledge related to drug impairment. ARIDE training is now being provided to all agencies throughout Ohio.
In January 2011, OSHP began asking every OSHP employee one question, “What will you do today to contribute to a safer Ohio?” That year, the fewest number of people, 1,015, were killed in traffic crashes on Ohio roads in its history. That’s 1,015 too many. We owe it to the Kimberlys and Deannas in communities across the United States to lead greater progress. ?
1“MAP-21: Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century,” Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation (PL 112-141), http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/map21 (accessed June 10, 2013).
2“Section 402 State and Community Highway Safety Grant Program,” Governors Highway Safety Association, http://www.ghsa.org/html/stateinfo/programs/402.html (accessed June 10, 2013).
3“Strategic Highway Safety Plan,” Governors Highway Safety Association, http://www.ghsa.org/html/resources/planning/shsp.html (accessed June 10, 2013).
4John Born, "Time Efficiency over Quotas: Program Measures and Balances Public Safety Productivity," The Police Chief 79 (July 2012): 34–37.
Please cite as:
John Born, "Safety Is Important when It Is Personal: Taking a Leadership Role in Highway Safety," The Police Chief 80 (July 2013): 24–27.