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Back to Archives | Back to January 2006 Contents 

Highway Safety Initiatives

By Joel Bolton, Lieutenant, Lake Charles, Louisiana, Police Department




he start of a new year presents an opportu­nity to reevaluate issues in our agencies, re­solve to make changes, and get fresh starts on old topics.

Traffic safety in your community should be high on your list of priorities as you seek to serve and protect better in 2006. A great place to start is by reviewing how you anticipate, evaluate, and respond to problems and oppor­tunities to improve the safety of the motoring public in your community.

The goal of a good traffic safety program is simply to save lives and prevent injuries. Putting a comprehensive program into action involves several basic considerations that, when taken together, will pay big benefits: adopting sound policies and guidelines; train­ing your officers; educating your community; recognizing exceptional actions by employees and others; aggressively enforcing safety belt, alcohol, and speed laws; and evaluating where your problems are and how well you respond.

Policy and Enforcement Guidelines
At this point, nearly every agency has a poli­cy that requires safety belt use by employees. While many of those policies contain similar language to help protect officers, the difference among agencies is how the CEO and comman­ders show their support for that policy and how aggressively supervisors enforce it. Our officers are no different from others in that they expect the people they respect to model good behavior, and some need a little reminder from an author­ity figure occasionally.

Also important are guidelines on enforce­ment of traffic safety laws. These guidelines should go beyond the how-to of running a spe­cial detail or making an impaired-driving arrest. There should be a clear statement of the level of importance the agency places on enforcement of alcohol, speed, and safety belt laws.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police has developed model policies and guidelines for your use. Compare these models to your current policy statements to look for possible areas of improvement.

Training
Frequent training is an excellent way to reinforce the importance of traffic safety while providing officers the skills and abilities to effectively enforce the law. Whether in a classroom, shift briefing, or field training format, recurrent training helps keep employ-ee's knowledge of current laws, policies, technologies, and techniques up-to-date. Better cases are presented for prosecution and officers are more comfortable with enforcing the law. Knowledge gained through training carries over into public education work.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Ad­ministration has developed a number of train­ing courses specifically for law enforcement. You are probably familiar with many of these, such as standardized field sobriety test train­ing. There are also courses on recognizing drug-impaired drivers, safety belt enforce­ment, public information, and other topics. Contact your state highway safety office for information on current training opportunities.

Public Information and Education
Police officers are highly respected as sources of accurate information when it comes to personal safety. That, combined with the fact that officers deal with the causes and the often tragic aftermath of motor vehicle crashes daily, makes educating the public about the importance of safe driving a natural fit for a police agency.

Community education is most effectively accomplished by using a combination of oppor­tunities. Electronic and print media present the means to reach many people with your mes­sage. Departments can gain access to mass media through printed media releases, press conferences and events, or making knowledge­able staff members available for interviews.

The national enforcement campaigns around holiday periods present excellent op­portunities to localize the traffic safety mes­sage and take advantage of media work done nationwide. Campaign planners often feature ready-to-use press releases, talking points, and suggestions for editorial page comment that you can adapt to local use.

Time and space limitations, however, often have an unfortunate result: less than what you needed to say makes it into print or onto the airwaves. Avenues to better control your mes­sage are afforded through face-to-face events such as civic club presentations, employee safety meetings, and school group activities. Displays at community fairs and festivals are also effective means of getting your message out while improving your department's image. Develop your own brochure or use fact sheets from national organizations to help communicate the information.

Remember, also, that you are not always the only effective spokesperson for traffic safe­ty. While your commitment and vocal support are critical to getting the message out, there are other voices in your community that can speak with great impact about the lifesaving effects of safety belts or the importance of sober dri­ving. Crash victims who survived because they were properly buckled can tell a convinc­ing story. Communicating the story of those impaired driving deaths that we failed to pre­vent also are meaningful reminders not to drive after drinking. Don't forget other advo­cates and allies who have an interest in injury prevention, such as emergency room doctors and nurses.

In this space next month, we'll look at the remaining three areas of a comprehensive traf­fic safety program: recognition and awards, enforcement, and effective evaluation. If your department is already working in all these areas, congratulations! Please consider com­municating what you're doing through the IACP National Law Enforcement Challenge, a fun way to share program ideas that work, while earning the opportunity to win great prizes. The application form is available online at (www.theiacp.org).


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From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 1, January 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.








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