omprehensive law enforcement traffic safety programs have had lifesaving benefits for communities across the nation. Progressive departments have proven that police can increase safety belt usage rates; reduce impaired driving injury crashes; and reduce excessive speeding.
It has also been demonstrated repeatedly that solid public information and education efforts, backed up by well-publicized enforcement, can improve the way motorists view their local police department and traffic enforcement.
In this space last month, we discussed three of the six essential elements of a good traffic safety program:
- Sound policy and enforcement guidelines that demonstrate to officers the level of importance the agency places on traffic safety
- Training that helps employees gain and apply the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to enforce the law and educate the public
- Public information and education activities that help convince motorists to buckle up, slow down, and drive sober
This month, we will look at the remaining ingredients of an effective traffic safety initiative:
- Recognition of outstanding performance by employees and citizens
- Enforcement of traffic safety laws
- Evaluation of efforts
Meaningful recognition of exemplary performance can be a real morale booster for your officers. We are competitive individuals and most enjoy a challenge to perform better. Those officers who are consistent high producers in traffic enforcement activities are no exception.
We typically associate awards and recognition with acts of bravery and valor. For most departments, the category list for awards presented is short. More and more, however, agencies are realizing the benefit of adding traffic enforcement categories to that list. For example, those officers who willingly tackle the complexity of a routine DWI arrest are probably your most dedicated self-starters and are deserving of recognition. They may not have had the opportunity to dash into a burning building to save a child, but they diligently work night after night to make your streets safer by intercepting impaired drivers before crashes occur.
Award presentations are an excellent way to involve community traffic safety advocates in your activities. A group interested in impaired driving or child passenger safety would likely be honored to be involved in a presentation ceremony for outstanding efforts in their focus area.
Saved by the Belt Awards for officers and citizens reinforce the message that safety belts work in the real world. Announcements of these awards are good news stories that can be distributed to media, and photographs of the crashed vehicles make great visuals for television and print media.
Don't forget to take advantage of opportunities to gain recognition for your department as well. Your officers are proud of the department they have devoted their lives to, and they are gratified when their agency receives praise. Participating in the IACP's National Law Enforcement Challenge is a great way to earn recognition for your agency. See the Web site for details: (www.lawenforcementchallenge.org).
There are advocates for every area of traffic safety. MADD, for instance, seeks to reduce the toll of death, injury, and productive years lost from impaired driving. Safe Kids promotes the correct use of child restraints.But none of these organizations can enforce the law. Only we can do that.
High-visibility enforcement of statutes designed to save lives is the key to changing motorist behavior. The police role in increasing safety belt use, for example, has been well documented. Attitudes and behaviors can be changed, particularly when enforcement activities are publicized and the reason (saving lives) is explained to the public.
Officers also need to understand what they are expected to accomplish with their enforcement activities. If your officers are evaluated on the quantity of citations they write, they will write lots of citations. If they are more appropriately evaluated on the impact of their activities on crash and injury rates, you may see fewer citations overall but fewer roadway deaths and injuries.
Evaluating your traffic safety program is essential to making it work. In addition to regularly reviewing your policies, enforcement guidelines, public information efforts, and training programs, conducting data analysis can help determine where and when resources are needed.
Crash data should be examined to determine not only when and where crashes are occurring but also the most prevalent causes at each location. This will help determine how and at what times of day you deploy your enforcement resources. If most of the alcohol-related crashes in your community are occurring between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m., the DWI squad shouldn't be ending its workday at 1:00 a.m.
Data analysis often reveals a need for targeted public information work or engineering improvements at certain intersections to reduce crash rates.
Surveys of safety belt use rates are also important because they establish a baseline against which to measure change. Such surveys also show what areas of your jurisdiction need increased enforcement activity. Surveys are easy to do. Simply select your location and count yes or no for a set time period (one hour, for example) or a set number of vehicles passing through, say, 100 cars. The next time you survey, use the same locations and the same time of day to get a valid comparison of how restraint use has changed.
As law enforcement agencies, we do many different things to make our communities safer. But nothing else you can do matches the potential of a comprehensive traffic safety program to save lives and prevent injuries to the people you serve. ■