09/14/2005

Travis YatesPolice Driving:
Safety Behind the Wheel

with Travis Yates

Are they really accidents?

In the last few weeks, American law enforcement has suffered the loss of officers in the line of duty that were described as "accidents." Two officers were killed in Michigan during two separate police pursuits and an officer was killed in Oklahoma while driving to assist another officer. In the last three decades, the deaths of officers in automobile collisions have risen over 40 percent. Since 1999, there has been more vehicle related line of duty deaths than those involving a firearm. Every officer death is a tragedy and every one of them is a true hero.
 
The LE community must ask questions: Are these tragedies really accidents? Are we doing everything we can to prevent line of duty deaths? Accidental deaths have become so frequent in the LE profession it has almost become an acceptable part of the job. Police administrators must stand up and say 'NO' to this deadly attitude.
 
Shooting deaths have declined 36 percent over the last three decades due, in part, to increased officer safety training requirements and ballistic vest programs that agencies have implemented. How many agencies require driver training? It would be unheard of for a department to not offer firearms training at least yearly. Where is the training in collision avoidance, basic driving techniques and police pursuits?
 
Sadly, even when tragedy occurs some administrators avoid the issue. Recently during a nine-month period, two officers died in collisions from a small Georgia PD. The Chief proclaimed that it would be "virtually impossible" to send all of his officers to driver training, and that there was not a problem with his department's driving. Georgia, like a majority of states, requires no driver training once an officer graduates the academy. Despite the fact that officers drive a car every day of their career, the training to go along with it does not seem important.
 
Not all police chiefs, unions and officers accept the deadly consequences of a lack of LE driver training. The Sand Springs (OK) PD mandates that every officer participate in an eight-hour driver training course at least every 24 months. They don't own a facility or special training cars but it remains a priority. If a track cannot be found, they put cones on an empty parking lot. The Sand Springs PD makes no excuses. From the chief to the officer, the training is given and the results are proven. Officer collisions have been reduced and the attitude has changed.

According to Assistant Chief Mike Carter, "accidents are not accepted and we actively monitor the driving behavior of our officers. We are not going to wait for an officer's death or injury to address the need for driver training within our agency."
 
The excuses for not training officers in driving are endless. The last thirty years have shown us what the future holds. The law enforcement profession should act now in order to prevent future tragedies.

About the author

Captain Travis Yates commands the Precision Driver Training Unit with the Tulsa, Okla. Police Department. He is a nationally recognized driving instructor and a certified instructor in tire deflation devices and the pursuit intervention technique. Capt. Yates has a Master of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Northeastern State University and is a graduate of the FBI National Academy. He is the owner of www.policedriving.com, a website dedicated to law enforcement driving issues and the Director of Ten-Four Ministries, dedicated to providing practical and spiritual support to the law enforcement community. You may contact Travis at Policedriving@yahoo.com.
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