By Larry Beechey, Deputy Commissioner, Ontario Provincial Police, General Headquarters, Orillia, Ontario, Canada
n 2009, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) experienced 112 fewer preventable, on-duty collisions when compared to 2008. The OPP has made tremendous progress when it comes to reducing serious collisions involving the public, but its officers did not stop there. The lives of officers are threatened each time they get into their patrol cars, and the OPP is finding new ways to reduce this risk and save lives.
In the years leading up to 2009, the OPP invested significant time and resources into the development of an effective collision reduction strategy for officers. As a result of an initial, in-depth study completed in 2004, OPP became acutely aware of several aspects of driver safety that needed improvement.
The OPP fleet includes nearly 3,400 automobiles, as well as more than 300 motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, and motorized snow vehicles. These vehicles patrol approximately 166 million kilometers (more than 103 million miles) annually.
The collision rate involving OPP members in 2004 was 8.27 collisions per million kilometers traveled. This is roughly 4 times higher than the general motoring public (2.018 collisions per million kilometers traveled), but is consistent with the rate identified in an IACP study involving state police agencies—the rate in the study was 8.15 collisions per million kilometers traveled. In 2009, the OPP was able to reduce this rate to 5.95.1
Critical Trends Identified in the Study
The 2004 OPP study found that new officers are at the greatest risk of being involved in a vehicle collision—officers with 5 or fewer years’ experience are involved in 35 percent of all collisions; 72 percent of collisions involving officers with fewer than 1 year of experience are preventable; and 63 percent of collisions involving officers with 1 to 2 years’ experience are preventable.2
Surprisingly, the study also determined that officers are more likely to crash during routine duties—41.5 percent of all collisions occur on routine patrol, while 6.2 percent of collisions occur during pursuits. Unnecessary speed, poor risk-management skills, and inattention are significant, contributing factors. In 2008, 22 percent of all preventable collisions were caused by driver inattention.3
The results of this initial study revealed to the OPP leadership that other agencies were experiencing collision rates similar to its own. Between 2003 and 2008, OPP officers were involved in collisions that claimed the lives of seven civilians and five officers. The OPP is not prepared to tolerate this grim statistic as a necessary cost of the profession. The OPP leadership needed to do more.
OPP Response to Collision Rates
The OPP’s collision reduction strategy has focused on three main areas: driver behavior, communication, and data and measurement.
Driving behavior. Changing driving behavior is a challenging task because most drivers have a significant lack of self-awareness. Drivers can only change their behaviors if they are aware that there is a deficiency in their driving. The OPP also found that although driver training can improve skills, it will also improve confidence at a faster rate, and that can ultimately lead to officers making poor decisions.
The OPP driver training strategy is based on a competency assessment that identifies exactly what skills drivers lack. Perhaps they have difficulty managing distraction or understanding the rules of the road. Through the assessment, training is tailored to the driver and is not a generic course of swerving through traffic cones and shuffle steering.
The competency assessments provide drivers with specific feedback on what kind of drivers they are, as opposed to what kind of drivers they think they are. Training must focus on improved self-awareness, risk mitigation, and coping with distraction.
Communication. The similarity in collision statistics across police agencies also highlights the significant cultural shift required to reduce officer-involved collisions. The existing mind-set of “Go get ‘em!” must change to a new mantra that includes officer and civilian safety, as well as public image, as the top priorities.
The OPP strategy emphasized a consistent message from all levels of command. The message to officers was
- that no good can come when an officer crashes on the way to assist someone else,
- that there is no expectation of risky or unsafe driving while on duty, and
- that the OPP expects officers to make decisions that ensure they return home safely at the end of their shifts.
Greater accountability is certainly a part of the OPP strategy, but improved awareness, consistent with strategies to improve driving behavior, has produced better decisions behind the wheel.
Data and measurement. The quality of the data collected with respect to on-duty collisions has improved immensely in the past three years. Strategies are driven by what the data reveal as the problem. Initiatives driven by anecdotes and personal opinions have proven ineffective in the past. A web-based electronic system allows for mandatory data to be collected and tracked in a timely manner. This facilitates the identification of trends and validates successful efforts.
The Secret behind OPP Success
With a total reduction of 16.5 percent (198 collisions) in 2009 and a further decrease to date, the OPP’s strategies have started the agency moving in the right direction. The OPP has involved experts in aviation safety, psychology, and risk-management in the effort. The strategies are in response to quality data; the department’s message is clear and one that recognizes how duty-bound OPP officers are. Their primary goal is not to respond to calls as quickly as possible with no regard for the consequences, but rather to use data gleaned from the OPP strategies to make safe and smart decisions while driving.
The OPP’s next step is the release of a comprehensive, e-learning awareness package that each officer will complete online. This is being produced in conjunction with the Canadian Police Knowledge Network and will be available across Canada and internationally.
Few other facets of policing have a similar potential to save so significantly. Saving dollars is one issue. But saving the lives of department employees and the public, demonstrating the agency’s integrity while on patrol in communities through leading by example, and ensuring officers’ safe arrival when people need them are intrinsic. ■
1The International Association of Chiefs of Police, IACP Law Enforcement Fleet Crash Study, no. 104 (September 1995).
2Ontario Provincial Police Fleet Services, OPP Collision Review Project, 2004.
3Ontario Provincial Police, Annual Collision Review, 2009.
|Readers can obtain additional information of the OPP’s collision reduction strategy by calling Staff Sergeant Chris Whaley at 705-329-6727, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.|
Please cite as:
Larry Beechey, "Reducing On-Duty Collisions," The Police Chief 77 (July 2010): 54,
http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/naylor/CPIM0710/#/54 (insert access date).