FEATURED IN VEHICLE OPS
Before we get to the five ways to arrive alive, let’s start with the most basic officer safety action you can take: Wear your seatbelt! Today’s cars are designed to absorb impacts by progressively crumpling around you. In the event of a crash, it’s imperative you stay in your seat. So don’t let the myth of the ninja assassin get you killed—seatbelts work but only if you use them!
(And for those who contend that the seat belt is hard to work when you’re wearing your gear, consider this: If you can operate a Level 3 safety holster, you should have no problem with a seatbelt. If you do, then practice to the point that it becomes natural.)
Following are five other tips to keep you safe.
Watch Your Speed
We’ve heard it since we were kids and it really is true: Speed kills! Approximately half of fatal police crashes involve only the officer’s vehicle. Think about that—the officer was the one who made it happen.
The most common primary collision factor in preventable police injury crashes is speed. And the up and coming most-frequent complaint about officers is—guess what?—speeding. The act of speeding is not only killing officers, it’s killing our relationship with the public at a time when we most need them. This is something that’s totally under your control. It’s your foot on the accelerator. Remember: You can’t help anyone if you don’t get there!
Clear Intersections & Verbalize the Action
Thousands of cops and civilians have been killed and seriously injured because officers didn’t properly clear an intersection while responding or pursuing. You just can’t rely on other drivers seeing you, no matter the brightness of your lightbar or the volume of your siren.
Try this: Slow as necessary as you approach the intersection and verbalize the words, “clear left” and “clear right” as you check for oncoming cars. The act of saying it out loud helps ensure that you do it and reinforces to your brain the action that you’re performing. If you’re running with an in-car video, your words will be captured and show that you exercised a level of caution.
Finally, make sure you have eye contact with approaching drivers before proceeding. There’s no call or bad-guy that’s worth blowing through a red light and killing someone else’s children or yourself. Never.
Know Your (Newer) Vehicle
Antilock brakes, electronic stability control, multi-airbag deployment and other safety improvements have caused some challenges in police work. Trying to fight the vehicle’s automated safety features has caused some officers to lose control of their car. Make sure you fully understand the handling characteristics of your assigned vehicle before you reach the vehicle’s handling threshold.
(Note to EVOC instructors: You do use training vehicles that have the same handling characteristics and safety equipment as your new patrol cars, don’t you?)
As for airbag deployment, vehicles today often have several airbags and it’s imperative that installed equipment not interfere with their deployment. In fact, items placed in front of an exploding airbag can be violently propelled into an officer. Bottom line: Use common sense and don’t let this happen to you.
Look Where You Want to Go
Look where you want to go, not where you’re afraid of going. Motor officers learn this one early if they want to survive, but it’s also very true for four-wheel operators. The actions of a driver will be significantly influenced by where the eyes are looking. Keep your eyes down the road and look where you want the vehicle to go. The adjustments you make in terms of steering and braking will naturally follow.
Give the Road its Due
Give your full attention to the road. Now that the whole world has technology in their cars, we better understand the effects of distracted driving.
We’ve got plenty of evidence to show that there is no such thing as true multi-tasking. At best, you’re splitting you’re cognitive capability between the two tasks. No matter how skilled you think you are, engaging in texting, talking, reading or manipulating switches takes your brain off the complicated task of driving and lengthens your reaction time. And remember, you can only react to what you see. If you’re reading the latest call from dispatch or the return on that license plate you just ran, you can easily blow a stop sign or strike a pedestrian in a crosswalk. It’s not worth it.
Here’s a suggestion that will improve safety throughout your agency: Implement a practice of going to voice (radio) rather than relying on the MDC with any type of urgent call. And it should always be okay for an officer to use the radio rather than the MDC when he or she feels it’s necessary.
There is an inherent risk associated with the job of law enforcement. We know this and, to a degree, our families accept it. However, that risk should be associated with bad guys and events beyond our control. Not using safety equipment or failing to exercise common sense isn’t only reckless, it’s unfair to those left behind. They didn’t sign up for that.