By Richard J. Ashton, Chief of Police (Retired), Frederick, Maryland; and Grant/Technical Management Manager, IACP
eat belt use among the general population of the United States has reached a high of 84 percent,1 an increase of 65 percent over the past 34 years.2 Usage of this device has saved more lives than any other vehicle safety program.3 Ironically, although law enforcement officers are the group most responsible for helping to achieve this remarkably high level of usage, they are operating at approximately the country’s 1997 level of usage.4
This lethal situation has not escaped the crosshairs of the IACP Highway Safety Committee’s Law Enforcement Stops and Safety Subcommittee (LESSS), which just completed its fourth roll-call training video, Is Today Your Day? Like LESSS’s earlier videos—Your Vest Won’t Stop This Bullet (produced in 2005 by the Ohio State Highway Patrol); P.U.R.S.U.E. (produced in 2007 by the Colorado State Patrol); and Saving Lives . . . One Stop at a Time (produced in 2008 by the California Highway Patrol)—this latest training video was undertaken to promote officer safety and reduce senseless officer deaths and injuries in cooperation with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; the Federal Highway Administration; the Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); and the National Sheriffs’ Association. Is Today Your Day? was produced by the New York State Police.
LESSS approached this video from the standpoint of the two groups most able to gain the attention of law enforcement officers: their professional partners and their families. Over a period of time, officers arguably share more face time and more personal details with their partners than with anyone else. Moreover, officers wish to return safely to their families after each and every shift. They are cognizant of the sacrifices that family members have made to support their careers—for example, the holiday activities, religious celebrations, school assemblies, and sporting events from which officers were absent. LESSS harnessed the emotion that these two groups evoke in officers and allowed them to shed light on the consequences of officers’ failures to buckle up in Is Today Your Day?
FBI statistics show that 41 percent more officers were killed accidentally than feloniously (746 versus 530) between 1999 and 2008,5 and that 66 percent of those killed accidentally in that decade (492 officers) died in automobile and motorcycle crashes.6 Additionally, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reported that 35 percent of the 37 officers killed in automobile crashes in 2009 were unbelted.7 But beyond these statistics, each death represents a law enforcement officer who has been forever lost to family, peers, neighborhood, and agency.
In May 2010, Clark County, Nevada, Sheriff Douglas C. Gillespie put faces to the tragic losses of three Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) officers and the serious injury of one other during a six-month period of 2009. Speeding was involved in each of the three incidents, and three out of the four officers were unbelted at the time of their crashes. “We were naive,” Sheriff Gillespie said. “We were naive this time last year [when his first officer was killed in May 2009] that we didn’t have a problem.”8 However, he acknowledged, “What we’re truly talking about here is a cultural change in our driving habits. The first is as an organization: We must demonstrate the courage necessary to institute change.”9 Sheriff Gillespie and LVMPD officers have exerted considerable efforts to address emergency responses10 and to promote seat belt use, and their agency-wide efforts reduced officer-involved crashes between May 2009 and January 2010.11
Seat belt extenders are intended to accommodate those individuals who exceed the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 209, which mandates that seat belts “fit occupants whose dimensions and weight range from those of a 5th-percentile adult female to those of a 95th-percentile adult male. . . .”12 However, the LVMPD banned these extenders, after discovering they were being employed to circumvent seat belt use.13 Extenders used independently of seat belts masquerade their use, silence the vehicle’s chime and light reminders, subvert the safety value of the supplemental airbag system, and jeopardize the safety of officers in the event of a crash. Moreover, the Ohio State Highway Patrol (OSHP) discontinued the use of extenders in June 2010 after studying them following the death of a trooper.14 A portion of the OSHP’s findings follow:
When an extension is added to the “click-on” end of the belt, it realigns the shoulder harness portion of the seat belt towards the door. This results in the shoulder restraint becoming off-centered on the driver’s or passenger’s body, which can allow the body to slip out from under the restraint more easily during a crash. The lack of tension being “signaled” upon initial impact could also affect deployment of the airbag.15
|Attend LESSS’ 4th Roll-Call |
Video: Is Today Your Day?
When: Wednesday, October 27, 2010,
10:00 a.m.–12:00 noon
Where: IACP 2010, Room 103 AB,
Orange County Convention Center,
Information: Richard Ashton,
1-800-843-4227, extension 276;
LESSS expects that once law enforcement officers view Is Today Your Day? they will be motivated to buckle up for their own safety and for the benefit of their partners and families. LESSS also anticipates that law enforcement executives will mandate the wearing of seat belts as lifesaving protection and will hold those they command responsible for doing so. As Sheriff Gillespie so aptly points out, “I would rather hold our officers accountable by issuing citations or discipline for not wearing a seat belt or for driving carelessly than plan another funeral.”16
LESSS will debut Is Today Your Day? during an October 27, 2010, workshop at the 117th Annual IACP Conference in Orlando, Florida, where each attendee will receive a DVD. As it has done with LESSS’ three previous roll-call training videos, the FBI graciously has offered to mail a DVD containing Is Today Your Day? and other videos to each of the more than 17,000 agencies that participate in its Uniform Crime Reporting program. The IACP will distribute additional copies to Canadian law enforcement agencies, highway safety offices, training academies, and other organizations to ensure wide exposure of LESSS’ officer safety messages. For more information, contact Richard Ashton, IACP Grant/Technical Management Manager, at 1-800-843-4227, extension 276, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. ■
1National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s [NHTSA] National Center for Statistics and Analysis, Traffic Safety Facts: Seat Belt Use in 2009—Overall Results, NHTSA publication no. DOT HS 811 100, September 2009, 1, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/pubs/811100.pdf (accessed July 18, 2010).
2Charles J. Kahane, Lives Saved by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and Other Vehicle Safety Technologies, 1960-2002—Passenger Cars and Light Trucks—With a Review of 19 FMVSS and Their Effectiveness in Reducing Fatalities, Injuries, and Crashes, NHTSA technical report no. DOT HS 809 833, October 2004, 90, http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/cars/rules/regrev/evaluate/pdf/809833Part1.pdf (accessed July 18, 2010).
5Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2008, October 2009, table 1, http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/killed/2008/data/table_01.html (July 18, 2010); FBI, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2008, October 2009, table 48, http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/killed/2008/data/table_48.html (accessed July 18, 2010).
6FBI, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted 2008, October 2009, table 63, http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/killed/2008/data/table_63.html (accessed July 18, 2010).
7Craig W. Floyd, “Preventing ‘Preventable’ Deaths: Trends and Issues in Officer Safety on our Roadways,” (paper presented to the IACP Law Enforcement Stops and Safety Subcommittee, March 13, 2010), slide 22.
8Sophia Choi, “One Year Later: Sheriff Gillespie Talks Metro’s Driving Policies,” My News 3, May 6, 2010, http://www.mynews3.com/story.php?id=16399&n=5035 (accessed July 16, 2010).
10For information on how the LVMPD and the Illinois State Police have addressed emergency responses, see Richard J. Ashton, “Highway Safety Initiatives: A Day to Remember, A Day to Pledge,” The Police Chief 77 (May 2010): 80–82, http://policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display&issue_id=52010&category_ID=11 (accessed July 18, 2010).
11Choi, “One Year Later: Sheriff Gillespie Talks Metro’s Driving Policies.”
12Code of Federal Regulations, 49 CFR 571.209 S4.1(g)(1), http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2004/octqtr/49cfr571.209.htm (accessed July 21, 2010).
13Choi, “One Year Later: Sheriff Gillespie Talks Metro’s Driving Policies.”
14Lieutenant Colonel P.L. Watts (OSHP assistant superintendent), interoffice communication to district/section commanders, June 28, 2010.
16“Sheriff: Police Need to Wear Seat Belts,” FOX5 News, October 21, 2009, http://www.fox5vegas.com/news/21356539/detail.html (accessed July 21, 2010).
Please cite as:
Richard J. Ashton, "Is Today Your Day?" Highway Safety Initiatives, The Police Chief 77 (September 2010): 92–94, http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/naylor/CPIM0910/index.php#/92 (insert access date).