A concerned motorist in Florida recently made headlines when she gave a law enforcement officer a warning for speeding. Even before this story became news, however, investigators at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) identified recommendations to improve police officers’ road safety after surveying officers in one state.
Although motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of work-related death among officers across the country, few studies have examined how these officers feel about their own safety on the road. To find out, in 2011 investigators surveyed nearly 1,500 officers in the state of Iowa, where NIOSH already had established relationships with several law enforcement agencies. Sixty randomly selected Iowa agencies voluntarily participated in the survey.
Most, but not all, officers surveyed reported wearing a seatbelt, according to the survey findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management. However, the percentage of officers who reported wearing reflective gear while outside of their patrol car was much lower, at only 4%–10%. Almost all officers reported that they received annual training, but only one third said that it was specific to safe motor vehicle use. Among the officers who did receive motor vehicle training, about one third reported that it was hands-on—for example, pursuit driving, or driving on courses that simulate on-the-job activities. Only half of the officers surveyed believed that their driver training in the police academy prepared them for driving as an officer.
Based on these and other findings, NIOSH made several key recommendations:
1. Wear Your Seat Belt
Seat belts save 13,000 lives every year. Buckle up on every drive, every time. Encourage other officers to do the same.
2. Avoid Distracted Driving
While you cannot eliminate all distractions in your patrol car, consider eliminating cell phone and mobile computer use during lights and siren responses.
3. Wear Your Reflective Gear
Wear a reflective vest or jacket when working around traffic outside of your patrol car. This makes you more visible to motorists. Keep your vest in your gear bag for easy access.
4. Attend Motor Vehicle Training
Update your motor vehicle training regularly. If your agency does not provide training, request funds to attend outside training or look for free training.
5. Know Your Agency’s Policy
Review your agency’s motor vehicle policies. Talk to your leadership about updating these policies to include non-pursuit driving speed restrictions, cell phone and mobile computer restrictions, and seat belt requirements.
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