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Back to Archives | Back to January 2011 Contents 

Highway Safety Initiatives

Four Emerging Traffic Safety Problems

By Earl M. Sweeney, Assistant Commissioner, New Hampshire Department of Safety; and Chair, IACP Highway Safety Committee

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n addition to the omnipresent problem of inattention and distracted driving, four other traffic safety concerns rank among the most significant in their challenges to the abilities and resources of the nation’s police officers.

1. Drugged Driving

The first of these four concerns is drugged driving, which, now more than ever, is a factor in traffic crashes. It is on the increase for several reasons. In some cases, illegal drugs are more available to underage drivers than alcohol. A wave is sweeping through state legislatures to decriminalize marijuana or to establish easily abused medical marijuana programs, state by state. We can only hope this trend slows before we arrive at a nonproductive society of stoners who sit around contemplating their navels until lawmakers finally realize the mischief that these well-intended laws are causing and reverse course.

Couple this with our already heavily medicated society that abuses ordinary prescription drugs, and you have in the making a perfect storm for traffic crashes. With no real standard (nothing similar to the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or greater for alcohol) to determine the amount of a given drug in a person’s system that constitutes prima facie intoxication, and, with most of our legislatures reluctant to pass absolute zero-tolerance laws, the best and almost only arrow we have in our quivers is drug recognition expert (DRE) training. We should train as many of our officers as we can as DREs; place the Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) program, which is a simplified but still effective mini–drug recognition program, in our basic academies; and offer ARIDE as an in-service program until all of our road officers have been trained in one or the other. For information on the International Drug Evaluation and Classification Program, as well as its DRE component, please visit

2. Terrorism

Recent events have shown that terrorism, the next of the four concerns, remains a very real threat in our own country (not just overseas), and it will continue to be for years to come. To feed the fusion centers that we have developed, one of the best sources of intelligence is still the police officer on patrol and in close, personal touch with drivers and pedestrians. We need to make sure these officers know what kind of information our fusion centers require and how to communicate information to these centers.

3. Aging Vehicles

The third emerging problem is the nation’s aging vehicle fleet. With the poor economy, new car sales are down, and there is a tremendous demand for used vehicles. Many cars on the road have traveled 100,000 miles; 200,000 miles; or more. Some of them are in deplorable mechanical condition, and we are bound to see more collisions caused by faulty vehicle components. So many states have done away with periodic motor vehicle inspection programs that our officers and their understanding of the importance of stops for defective equipment are becoming our only line of defense against crashes caused by defective vehicles.

4. Unrecognizable License Plates

The fourth and final concern is the future of a simple crime prevention tool: the license plate, fully reflectorized on front and back, with a highly visible validation sticker. We must do whatever we can to persuade departments of motor vehicles and legislatures to curb the proliferation of vanity plates with duplicate identification numbers for different types of plate and with color schemes that make it virtually impossible to tell by what state a plate was issued. The license plate is an inexpensive and irreplaceable crime-fighting tool. It is also a revenue producer for states or provinces, because it reduces the number of vehicles with expired registrations on the roads. If your state is a two-plate state and there is a move to issue only one plate for economic reasons, fight it with everything at your disposal. And if you are in a one plate state, do your best to convince the legislature to mandate both a front plate and a back plate. If one of your officers makes an outstanding arrest involving the use of this simple tool, consider entering him or her in the IACP/3M Looking Beyond the License Plate awards program (see page 61). The real-life stories that are brought to light through the entries in this program enable law enforcement to offer concrete examples of the value of the license plate to criminal, as well as to traffic, enforcement. Applications for 3M’s 2011 Looking Beyond the License Plate award program for actions occurring between June 1, 2010, and May 31, 2011, can be completed online at ■

Please cite as:

Earl M. Sweeney, "Four Emerging Traffic Safety Problems," Highway Safety Initiatives, The Police Chief 78 (January 2011): 78, (insert access date).



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 1, January 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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