Law enforcement officers face extreme dangers when navigating streets and highways. These dangers have been well documented, but the roadways themselves pose a specific threat that’s not often discussed.
On average, one officer is killed each month while standing in the roadway, and countless others are injured. While traffic incident management is a common activity that officers participate on the roadway, vehicle stops should be conducted with several factors in mind.
A good knowledge of the patrol area will assist an officer in selecting a safe location for a vehicle stop. Areas and roads that are well lit with wide shoulders are the safest. Avoid stopping a vehicle on blind curves, hill crests and those with narrow shoulders. Although you can’t control where a violator ultimately stops their car, you can control the vehicle stop. Officers should not hesitate to tell a violator to move their car to a safer location, and when possible, off-ramps and parking lots are much safer than the roadways themselves.
Officers must be aware of traffic both behind them and oncoming. Avoid standing near the roadway or between your car and the violator car. Depending on the type of violation and number of occupants, a passenger-side approach may get you additional distance away from traffic. Have a pre-determined escape route if a vehicle comes towards your location; thinking about it before it happens can help you avoid tragedy.
Once the vehicle contact is complete, enter traffic with caution. Cars are traveling much quicker than they appear, so you must have ample distance available when you reenter traffic.
High-Visibility Safety Apparel
On Nov. 24, The United States Federal Highway Administration made it mandatory for law enforcement within the right-of-way of a federal-aided highway to wear high-visibility safety apparel. This apparel must meet at least ANSI Level 2 requirements. Although officers are exempt from wearing high-visibility safety apparel while investigating criminal activity on the roadway, wearing this apparel is not only safer, it’s also required when officers are conducting traffic management duties such as collision investigations, directing traffic, aiding motorists and handling lane closures, roadway obstructions, etc. While this new rule is mandatory on highways that receive federal funds, agencies should mandate the use of high-visibility safety apparel on all roadways.