Don’t ride over your ability level, and slow down. You have your whole career ahead of you. Photo Dale Stockton
FEATURED IN BELOW 100
Statistics show that more motor officers die as a result of traffic accidents than any other incident. Remember: Speed kills, and just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
I encourage you to check out these motor officer safety tips, which fall in line with the Law Officer’s Below 100 initiative to reduce officer deaths.
Always Wear Your Helmet
I don’t mean just when you’re riding. Keep your helmet on while you conduct traffic stops, investigate collisions and do simple follow-up investigations.
I conduct my work primarily on the freeways around Southern California, notorious for heavy traffic and innumerable traffic collisions. Statistics show that most traffic offers are killed, not by some Parole At Large (PAL) or those kids that just robbed the mini-mart, but by traffic. If you happen to let your guard down or your attention waivers from traffic and you're struck, at least you'll have a hard shell on your head to take the scrapes.
Don’t sacrifice your safety for your ability to hear a violator. Tell them to speak up or roll up all windows but the one you are standing at, or purchase some noise cancelling earphones.
When it comes to investigating traffic collisions don't assume the scene is secure because you have some car officers and traffic cones out to help with traffic control. This means that you should not only still never turn your back to traffic, but keep that helmet on. You never know who or what is going to blow through the cone pattern and take you out. It could be someone having a medical emergency, or the teenager trying to juggle texting while drinking a latte.
So what if it’s hot outside? Don’t trade comfort for safety. Use your helmet!
Choose Your Locations for Traffic Stops Wisely
A cruisers acts as a barrier during a traffic stop. Motor officers have to adapt, overcome and, at times, get extra creative to find a barrier. Look for objects and roadway features that you can use to protect yourself. Stand behind a guardrail or concrete median barrier to approach a violator, and then write your citation. Those things are designed to absorb impact and keep vehicles from flying over the side of the freeway. Use them to keep vehicles from flying into you.
If you make traffic stops on city streets or don’t have a wall to stand behind, use a tree, mailbox or phone booth. This type of situational awareness has another benefit, too. What if that violator decides today just isn’t the day to receive a citation and exits the vehicle to engage you in a gunfight? If you’re already looking for a barricade between you and the traffic, then you’re also in position for concealment in a gunfight.
Remember: When choosing your spot, don’t stand behind an object that will obscure your view of the violator. Also, look for pieces of roadway that aren’t around blind curves or at the bottom of steep hills. If you feel as though you’re in a sketchy part of the road, don’t initiate a traffic stop. There’s nothing wrong with waiting a mile or so before stopping somebody. If they ask you why you waited, simply tell them it was for their safety and yours. Never let your guard down—for anybody.
Don’t Ride Over Your Ability Level
No matter what level rider you are, never put yourself in the “Oh crap!” position or in a position where you’re weaving in and out of traffic at ridiculous speeds to chase someone down for a simple traffic infraction.
Remember: At the end of the day, the most important thing for all officers is to go home. If you get a hair on the back of your neck that stands up when you are riding, then don’t be afraid to abort the stop. I know it would bug me to let some violator go, but I may be better off for it. I’ve been in pursuits where, when the pursuit terminates, I've said to myself, “That was dumb. What was I thinking?”
Don’t lose the warrior mentality needed to win, but realize that you need to ride home, too, and that’s more important. The senior motor officers in my squad preach this: “Slow down. You have your whole career ahead of you.”
Don’t Get Stuck Behind Stopped Traffic
If you're pulling up to a red light or stopped traffic on the roadway for any reason don’t get stuck sitting behind a vehicle. You’re exposing yourself to trouble. Don’t be afraid to pull between two cars and wait for a green light or for traffic to move. If you’re uncomfortable splitting traffic to go to the front, or it’s a violation of your department’s policy, then sit between the two last cars in line.
Only one lane? Pull onto to shoulder. If you’re stopped behind the last car in a lane, and you’re in a wheel track like you should be, the car approaching from the rear may only see two sets of taillights. Your taillights may be perceived to be part of the vehicle ahead of you.
Face it, many people aren’t dedicating their full attention to the road. They may be distracted by screaming kids, eating, texting, make-up—whatever. You have to assume they’re not going to see you. If there’s no way for you to not be stuck behind a vehicle, give yourself plenty of space between your motor and the vehicle ahead.
Look for your “out.” You may only need a small space to one side or the other. Identify it, and angle your front wheel toward it. Don’t be a victim. Always be vigilant. Stay in gear, look in your side mirrors for approaching traffic, and cover that clutch. Be ready to escape at all times.
This is a no-brainer, but it may be the most neglected tip. If you ride while tense you’re diminishing your ability to maneuver.
Think about it. What’s the first thing to tense up? Your jaw. If that’s tight, so is your neck—and then your back, arms, and so on. You need to be able to scan where you are in a pack of vehicles. Expect that the vehicle ahead of you may slam on its brakes when you activate your enforcement lights, and have the mobility to get around it.
I was taught to chew gum when I ride. When you’re chewing gum, you keep your jaw loose and consequently your whole body. This helps me in competition and even more on the road. I can’t operate without chewing gum now. I don’t feel right without it. If you like to sing to yourself, then sing--or do whatever floats your boat.
Everyone has external stresses they may bring from home to work. Life’s tough, but you must remember that when you put on those motor boots and helmet, you’re undertaking a risky thing. Try to save your worries for the coffee shop, and have fun riding around doing your job. And, most importantly, stay safe.
- Below 100: Watch Your Speed
- Below 100 Podcast: Reduce Officer Deaths Now
- Traffic Stop Survival, Part 1
- Traffic Stop Survival, Part 2