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Back to Archives | Back to July 2011 Contents 

Preventing Traffic-Related Line-of-Duty Deaths

By John R. Batiste, Chief, Washington State Patrol, and General Chair, State and Provincial Police Directorate, IACP; Michael L. Wagers, PhD, Director, State and Provincial Police Directorate, IACP; and Richard J. Ashton, Chief of Police (Retired), Frederick, Maryland; and Grant/Technical Management Manager, IACP


Editor’s Note: The article Preventing Traffic-Related Line-of-Duty Deaths has been excerpted from the IACP report of the same name. The full report is available at
http://www.theiacp.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=P9VgOm3HbDg=&tabid=109.

oo many law enforcement officers die as a result of automobile crashes. More than 700 officers lost their lives from 2000 to 2009 because of an automobile or motorcycle crash or from being struck and killed while outside of their patrol vehicles.1 In 2010, there was a significant increase in the number of officers who died in the line of duty (LOD) because of traffic-related causes.

The IACP recognizes this issue. IACP President Mark A. Marshall sent a message to the more than 21,000 members of the IACP in response to the increase in LOD deaths in 2010, commenting, “This is simply unacceptable. As police leaders, we can and must do all that we can to reduce these horrific numbers.” President Marshall challenged law enforcement leaders to find ways “to give our officers the best chance of survival while they protect our communities.”2

The Division of State and Provincial (S&P) Police, as a highway safety advocate, recognizes the seriousness and the persistence of this problem and is committed to finding ways to ensure the safety of law enforcement officers while they are out on the highways and roadways protecting the public. In response to President Marshall’s challenge and reports from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) on the increase of LOD deaths and from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regarding seat belt use by law enforcement officers, the Division of State and Provincial Police surveyed its members.3 This survey is intended to be a first step in generating ideas and solutions.


Traffic-Related LOD Deaths

Traffic-Related Line-of-Duty Deaths
Type of Traffic-Related IncidentNumber
Automobile crash50
Struck and killed while outside of vehicle16
Motorcycle crash6
Bicycle accident1
Total73

Seventy-three law enforcement officers died in traffic-related incidents in 2010. These LOD deaths represented a 37 percent increase from the year before. Although the 2010 totals were a significant increase from 2009 and they approached the record high of 84 officers killed in traffic-related incidents in 2007, they do not, unfortunately, represent an anomaly. For the 13th straight year, traffic-related incidents were the leading cause of LOD deaths.4

By comparison, 61 officers were shot and killed in 2010—an increase of nearly 25 percent from the prior year. According to data from the NLEOMF, for the prior 10 years, an average of nearly 57 officers died each year as a result of a firearms-related incident. For the same time period, an average of 72 officers died each year in traffic-related incidents.

Immediate Past IACP President Michael J. Carroll, who made the protection of the men and women on the front line a major initiative during his term, recognized this trend. As he noted in his November 2009 President’s Message in Police Chief magazine about traffic-related deaths and injuries, “When you tally up the incidents that cause our officers’ death or serious injuries, you notice very quickly that automobile incidents are a greater cause of these results than firearms. Car stops, pursuits, crashes, and other events where our officers are in control or using the patrol car are resulting in more deaths and injuries than gunfire.”5

These statistics, of course, confirm what is known: Policing is an inherently dangerous job. The risk of a law enforcement officer being killed on the job is three times higher than for other workers.6 Law enforcement officers are also four times more likely than a civilian motorist to be involved in a crash, as represented by the LOD death data.7


S&P Police Officers Killed in the LOD

In 2010, 28 troopers were killed in the LOD. According to the S&P survey, the average age of the officer at the time of death was 39 years old and the average length of service was 13 years. According to the FBI’s Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) data, the average age of all law enforcement officers killed accidentally in the LOD in 2009 was 35 years old, with an average of 9 years of service.8

As indicated in the table below, the majority—6 out of 10 officers—were killed in traffic-related incidents. They were either killed in a crash or they were struck on the side of the road by other vehicles while in their patrol vehicles or outside of their vehicles.

S&P Police LOD Deaths
Type of Traffic-Related IncidentNumber
Vehicle crash36
Struck on side of road25
Other*21
*“Other” includes helicopter crashes, boating accidents, training incidents, and so on. This category also includes the two Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers who were killed during the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

Survey and Results

The S&P Division surveyed its members on what are thought to be factors that could lead to serious injury or death in the case of a crash (such as nonuse of seat belts) and factors that might distract troopers while they are driving their patrol vehicles. A brief online survey was administered to all S&P members regarding seat belt, cell phone, texting, and mobile data computer and terminal use policies and practices. The survey was sent to IACP members in January 2011.

Below is a summary of a few key findings. A full copy of the survey report can be found through the S&P section of the IACP website, http://www.theiacp.org/About/Governance/Divisions/StateandProvincialPoliceSP.

Almost all S&P member agencies reported that they had policies requiring officers to wear seat belts. Only 9 percent of the respondents indicated that they did not have a written policy on seat belt use. It is interesting to note that 27 percent of the respondents indicated that their states did not have state laws regarding seat belt use by law enforcement officers.

Respondents were queried about the number of officers who were killed in crashes in 2010 and the number who were not wearing their seatbelts. According to the agency heads who responded to the survey, only one trooper who was killed in a crash was not wearing his seat belt. A similar question was posed to respondents about the number of officers seriously injured in a crash and not wearing their seat belts. Only six troopers from agencies that responded were involved in crashes where they were seriously injured and were not wearing their seatbelts.

While these numbers may be encouraging, NHTSA conducted an analysis of almost 30 years’ worth of crash data and found that 42 percent of all law enforcement officers killed in traffic crashes were not wearing seat belts. The number may actually be higher because NHTSA could not determine whether or not the officer was wearing a seat belt in 13 percent of the cases.

A larger percentage of S&P agency heads—almost 40 percent—reported that they did not have policies regarding cell phone use by officers.

The same percentage reported that they did not have policies regarding texting by officers.

Respondents were asked if texting or cell phone use contributed to any crashes in 2010. Twenty-five percent reported that an agency-owned vehicle had crashed because of one of these two distracted driving issues. None reported a serious injury or death.


Recommendations

The goal of the survey was to gather data on factors that might prevent traffic-related LOD deaths. The larger goals of this ongoing effort are to gain the attention of law enforcement executives and policy makers about this problem, generate solutions, and direct resources to address a more comprehensive effort to improve officer safety.

Accordingly, the S&P Division puts forward the following recommendations:

Seat Belt Use. As mentioned, NHTSA found that 42 percent of law enforcement officers killed in traffic crashes were not wearing seat belts. One way to prevent these deaths is for agencies to adopt and enforce a policy requiring seat belt use by officers and passengers.

Recommendation One: Adoption and enforcement of a policy establishing guidelines for the use of occupant restraint systems in department vehicles by all law enforcement agencies.

Although only a small percentage of S&P agencies do not have a seat belt use policy, the S&P Division recommends that those without one adopt such a policy. The IACP Highway Safety Committee has a model policy on this issue.9 The IACP Executive Committee has adopted a resolution regarding mandatory seat belt use by law enforcement officers.

A policy alone, however, will not completely solve the problem. It is, nevertheless, a necessary and needed first step that all law enforcement agencies should take. Also, leadership needs to express the importance of seat belt use by law enforcement officers; education among officers needs to be increased (such as through the use of the IACP Highway Safety Committee’s Law Enforcement Stops and Safety Subcommittee roll call video, Is Today Your Day?); and front-line supervisors need to ensure compliance.

Move Over Laws. Officers being hit and killed while on the side of the road performing their duties is a problem. According to LEOKA data, an average of one officer a month was struck and killed for the 17-year period between 1993 and 2009. Forty-nine states now have Move Over laws that attempt to address this issue by requiring motorists to change lanes or slow down when they approach an emergency vehicle.10

Recommendation Two: Creation of a national educational campaign to increase awareness of Move Over laws and increased and coordinated enforcement efforts of move over laws.

As with all laws, education of the public (and elected officials) and enforcement are keys to changing behavior. The S&P Division recommends that a nationwide effort be conducted, similar to other campaigns to change driver behavior, to get motorists to understand the importance of moving over and slowing down when they see emergency vehicles. A number of states, such as Virginia, have aggressive Move Over educational campaigns. Many regions also coordinate their activities. A coordinated nationwide campaign will require assistance from federal partners at the Department of Transportation and other highway safety advocate groups.

Distracted Driving. In 2009, distraction was reported for 11 percent (5,084) of the drivers (45,230) involved in fatal crashes, accounting for 16 percent (5,474) of the overall fatalities (33,808) in the United States.11 In addition to activities undertaken by other drivers, law enforcement officers engage in additional job-related types of multitasking that divert their attention away from driving, such as scanning approaching traffic and the roadside for suspicious or hazardous behaviors, entering queries into the mobile data terminal, recording the location of a call for service or the description of a wanted person or vehicle, activating emergency equipment, and talking on the police radio.

Recommendation Three: Adoption of (1) a policy establishing guidelines to reduce distracted driving; and (2) creation of a training/educational video or in-service training.

The S&P Division recommends that any policy adopted include the overarching principle that officers must be able to maintain both hands on the steering wheel while the vehicle is in motion and while using a cell phone or another wireless communication device, and that the policy also cover both privately- and agency-owned wireless voice and data communication devices either in agency-owned vehicles or in privately owned vehicles when officers are on duty or are conducting official business.

Driver Training. The IACP recognized at its 81st annual conference in 1974 “the need for preparatory training in the special area of high-speed pursuit and emergency driving“12 and resolved at its 87th annual conference in 1980 that all officers who had not received training developed by NHTSA be afforded that training or its equivalent.13 Nonetheless, a 1997 study found that, on average, fewer than 14 hours of driver skills training were provided to entry-level officers, and just slightly more than three hours of annual in-service training was offered.14

Recommendation Four: Examine and evaluate the number of hours and the types of driver training and in-service programs needed to reduce officer-involved fatal or serious injury crashes.

Conspicuity of Vehicles and Equipment. Twenty-five percent of S&P officers killed in traffic-related LOD incidents are struck on the side of the road. As with Move Over laws, another avenue to explore to reduce this number is the conspicuity of vehicles and equipment. Evidence exists that the following are important factors: the positioning of police vehicles at traffic stops and crash scenes, how an officer approaches a vehicle, the amount and type of emergency lighting on police vehicles, the presence or absence of reflective marking on police vehicles, and the wearing of ANSI-approved reflective clothing.

Recommendation Five: Explore the adoption of policies that establish guidelines for (1) positioning of police vehicles at traffic stops and crash scenes; (2) the use of emergency and other lighting; (3) equipping patrol vehicles with reflective markings on the sides and rear; and (4) the use of approved reflective clothing at crash scenes and during protracted roadside activities.

Research. In addition to the above recommendations, more research and data are needed to develop a better understanding of other factors that may lead to traffic-related LOD deaths. Based on the survey, the S&P Division recommends that future research be conducted in four specific areas.

Recommendation Six: Research must be conducted on (1) speed by law enforcement officers as a factor in fatal crashes; (2) equipment and technologies in patrol vehicles as a distraction; (3) equipment configuration in patrol vehicles as factors that increase the risk of serious injury or death in crashes; and (4) fatigue as a factor in officer-involved crashes.


Moving Forward

The IACP has been working to improve officer safety through endeavors such as the IACP SafeShield program and the National Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police. The S&P Division will work with these initiatives and it will work closely on traffic-related issues with the IACP’s Highway Safety Committee and its Law Enforcement Stops and Safety Subcommittee (LESSS).

To ensure that these recommendations are moved forward, an ad hoc committee of S&P members has been appointed and will report back to the general membership in October at IACP 2011, the annual conference, in Chicago, Illinois.

Police leaders owe the men and women who are on the front lines every day the best opportunity to perform their duties safely. ■


Notes:

1“Causes of Law Enforcement Deaths,” National law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, http://www.nleomf.org/facts/officer-fatalities-data/causes.html (accessed May 18, 2011).
2Mark A. Marshall, “A Message from IACP President Mark Marshall,” International Association of Chiefs of Police, January 4, 2011, http://www.theiacp.org/About/WhatsNew/tabid/459/Default.aspx?id=1390&v=1 (accessed May 18, 2011).
3This complements other initiatives to improve officer safety at the IACP, including the National Center for the Prevention of Violence Against the Police, the SafeShield program, and the Highway Safety Committee and its Law Enforcement Safety and Stops Subcommittee.
4“Law Enforcement Fatalities Spike Dangerously in 2010,” Research Bulletin (National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and Concerns of Police Survivors), http://www.nleomf.org/assets/pdfs/reports/2010_Law_Enforcement_Fatalities_Report.pdf (accessed May 18, 2011).
5Michael J. Carroll, “President’s Message: The Year Ahead,” The Police Chief 76 (November 2009): 6, 79, http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/magazine/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_arch&article_id=1937&issue_id=112009 (accessed May 18, 2011).
6Cindy Clarke and Mark J. Zak, Fatalities to Law Enforcement Officers and Firefighters, 1992–97 (June 1999), http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfar0029.txt (accessed May 18, 2011).
7Ford Motor Company, “Crown Victoria Police Interceptor: Police Officer Safety Action Plan,” September 2002 update.
8U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Criminal Justice Information Systems, Uniform Crime Report, “Officers Accidentally Killed,” Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 2009, http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/killed/2009/accidentallykilled.html (accessed May 18, 2011).
9IACP Highway Safety Committee, “Occupant Restraint Systems,” Manual of Police Traffic Services Policies and Procedures (Alexandria, Va.: International Association of Chiefs of Police, July 2004), http://www.theiacp.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=6LEWIkF%2bafU%3d&tabid=87 (accessed May 18, 2011).
10Hawaii and the District of Columbia do not have Move Over laws.
11National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Distracted Driving,” Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note, September 2010, DOT HS 811 379, 1, http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811379.pdf (accessed May 18, 2011).
12International Association of Chiefs of Police, “High Speed Pursuit Driving Training,” The Police Yearbook, 1975 (Gaithersburg, Md.: International Association of Chiefs of Police, 1975), 255–256.
13International Association of Chiefs of Police, “High Speed Driving—Training,” The Police Yearbook, 1981 (Gaithersburg, Md.: International Association of Chiefs of Police, 1981), 267–268.
14Geoffrey P. Alpert, “Police Pursuit: Policies and Training,” National Institute of Justice Research in Brief, May 1997, 2, http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/164831.pdf (accessed May 18, 2011).


Please cite as:

John R. Batiste, Michael L. Wagers, and Richard J. Ashton, "Preventing Traffic-Related Line-of-Duty Deaths," The Police Chief 78 (July 2011): 52–55.

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From The Police Chief, vol. 78, no. 7, July 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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