Mark A. Marshall, Chief of Police, Smithfield Police Department, Smithfield, Virginia
hanks to the years of dedicated and increased enforcement efforts, improvements in vehicle safety technology, intense focus on the use of protective equipment technology, and stricter laws and regulations regarding impaired driving, the last 20 years have witnessed a remarkable improvement in highway safety.
Yet despite these improvements and enforcement efforts, the highway remains a very dangerous place. According to the World Health Organization, more than 3,000 people die on the world’s roads every day. That’s more than 1 million every year. In addition, as many as 50 million people are injured or disabled every year. In the United States alone, in 2009, 30,797 people were killed and 1,517,000 people were injured.
Tragically, as we all know, these fatalities and injuries are, to a great extent, preventable. Crucial risk factors such as speeding; not wearing seat belts or child restraints; poor road design; and, most critically, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be reduced and even eliminated.
It is for these reasons that the IACP has long been actively involved in promoting highway safety efforts. We realize the simple truth that for most of the citizens we are sworn to protect, the greatest threat to their safety comes not from violent crime or terrorist activity but from traveling in a vehicle.
This is why effective highway safety enforcement programs are so vital to our efforts to protect our communities. In fact, I believe that it is no exaggeration to say that few duties of the law enforcement community affect the quality of life of our citizens as significantly as the rendering of quality police traffic services.
To assist our membership, the IACP has several programs and initiatives that focus on highway safety.
The National Law Enforcement Challenge (NLEC) is a traffic safety awards program that focuses on three major traffic safety priorities: occupant protection, impaired driving, and speeding. Supported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the NLEC provides agencies with an opportunity to make a significant difference in the communities they serve through traffic safety activities, ultimately reducing injuries, saving lives, and detecting and deterring crime.
The High-Visibility Enforcement and Sustained Impaired Driving Enforcement Program is a five-year partnership between NHTSA and the IACP Division of State Associations of Chiefs of Police (SACOP) that provides training, resources, and financial support to state associations to conduct high-visibility enforcement projects during peak times and outreach that reduces impaired driving and improves occupant protection. In 2010, SACOP released a report on high-visibility enforcement programs and the impact and role that smaller law enforcement agencies can and must play in these critical efforts. The report Supporting and Sustaining State and Local Law Enforcement Efforts: HVE Practical Applications will be available at http://www.theiacp.org/hve.
Preventing Traffic-Related Line-of-Duty Deaths is a vital report, since too many law enforcement officers die as a result of automobile crashes or other traffic-related causes. More than 700 officers lost their lives from 2000 to 2009 because of automobile or motorcycle crashes or by being struck and killed while outside of their patrol vehicles. In response, in May 2011, the IACP Division of State and Provincial Police released a report, Preventing Traffic-Related Line-of-Duty Deaths. Available on the IACP website, the report includes a number of recommendations designed to reduce the unacceptably high number of officers killed and injured in traffic-related incidents.
All of these efforts are critical because we, as police leaders, know that consistent enforcement of traffic laws provides immediate payback in terms of reduced deaths, injuries, and property damage. We also know that traffic enforcement brings other benefits to a community. Criminals, like law-abiding citizens, travel by vehicle; when they observe signs of visible traffic enforcement activity in a specific jurisdiction or area, they shy away from it and take their crimes elsewhere.
Clearly, highway safety and effective traffic enforcement are important to everyone, and, although this enforcement is certainly not the most glamorous or exciting job, it is an area where we can truly have an impact on the safety of those we serve. I am proud that the IACP continues its unparalleled commitment to actively develop and support programs and activities that save lives and reduce injuries.
It is vital that we, as police leaders, take a leading role in promoting and implementing effective traffic enforcement efforts. We know that traffic enforcement saves lives and that it also helps to identify or pr event other criminal activity. We need to be leaders as we strive to develop community-based strategies that will involve parents, educators, and activists who share the goal of promoting safer highways and, as a result, safer communities. ■
Please cite as:
Mark A. Marshall, "'The Greatest Threat' to Public Safety," President's Message, The Police Chief 78 (July 2011): 6.