Let's be honest about our driving speed
Since 1999, 43 percent of the officers that have died behind the wheel of the car have done so in single car collisions and this trend remains in 2011
A few years ago, I wrote an article titled How we die – the untold story. While I found several patterns in line of duty deaths in regards to driving incidents in that article, one of the most troubling for me then and still today are one vehicle fatalities that involve law enforcement.
Indeed, the first driving fatality of this year involved Fort Bend (TX) Deputy John Norsworthy. Deputy Norsworthy was on his way to back up another officer on a traffic stop when his vehicle left the roadway and struck a tree. He was trapped in the vehicle for almost an hour before he could be rescued and flown to a hospital in Houston. John would die at 39 years old.
A little over a month later, Delray Beach (Fla.) Sergeant Adam Rosenthal would also die when his vehicle left the roadway and struck a tree. Adam was also 39 years old and I identified with him not only because I was the same age but I was with Adam at the 2010 ILEETA Conference in Chicago, Illinois.
Both of these men were heroes before and after they died and they had so much to contribute to their agency, their community and their family. The facts in the previous article never left me and one-vehicle fatalities continue to haunt me.
As I speak to law enforcement groups about driving related incidents, I will often ask this question to the group.
If you get a call tonight and it is a fatality collision involving just one vehicle, what do you think the cause is before you even arrive on the scene?
It doesn’t matter what room, city, state or country I’m in, the answer is always the same: speed.
When we speak about law enforcement deaths, there are some assumptions that have to be made. One of those assumptions is that we don’t always know the intimate details of why one of our own has died in the line of duty. Thanks to our friends at ODMP and NLEOMF we can know the general facts but unless we work for that agency, we probably will never know everything. With that said, a one vehicle collision does not necessarily mean that speed was a factor but I think if we are honest we would admit that it is the case in most of them and for us to attack this issue, some honesty needs to be here.
I have been in law enforcement for close to 19 years with the vast majority of that time on the road at various ranks. Let me be very honest. Excessive Speed is a problem in our profession and it doesn’t matter where I am, I see it and if you are honest, you see it as well.
Does It Make A Difference?
The truth is in more instances than we would care to hear about, we have risked our safety only to arrive on a scene with nothing happening or we have driven with excessive speed when in all reality we could have driven the speed limit with the same results. I recently spoke at an agency that has a “100 MPH Club.” They have a set of videos taken from officers that have driven over 100 MPH to scenes and do you know what they see in almost all of the videos? The officer drives well over the speed limit, only to arrive at the call, sit in their car for a while and then walk slowly up to the location. The department’s point is valid. Was the risk in driving really worth it?
With that said, it is also important for our trainers to focus on the correct methodology when it comes to EVOC Training. Our officers do need to know what the dynamics of a car will do at high speeds but to focus all of that training on speed while leaving out the decision making component is like playing Russian Roulette with no empty chambers. The decision to violate the traffic code should be taken just as seriously as using deadly force because if it goes wrong, serious injury or death can and will occur.
Following the death of a 10 year old boy in 2008 from a Dallas Officer driving in excess of the speed limit, Chief David Kunkel introduced a new policy on driving. A Dallas Officer could not drive over the speed limit in any residential neighborhood or school zone and if the call warranted an emergency response, the maximum speed was 20 MPH over the limit. There was also a mandate for officers to stop completely at all intersections. The Policy was not popular with all. One Supervisor exclaimed on a local blog “how the citizens can possibly support us when we can't get to calls fast enough to save lives or to keep burglars, robbers, and others from taking things from them or from harming them.”
That’s when that honesty part comes in I spoke about earlier. Does the speed really make that much difference?
The York Regional Police Department is just one agency using this technology in a successful manner. Every time an officer drives over 80 mph, a report is generated and sent to the EVOC Team. That unit is tasked with researching why the officer may have been travelling those speeds and often times they find a valid reason but sometimes they cannot and that report is then sent to the officer’s supervisor for review and counseling.
Has it made a difference? It has in York and what they found is likely what you would find. Most drove within the guidelines but a few were always driving fast without a reason and it was the same ones week after week. Thanks to proactive leadership wanting to provide safety to their agency and technology, the reports of excessive speed have been very low and something else happened. Those burglars and robbers were still being caught and crime was still being fought despite the emphasis on driving safety.
Since 1999, 43 percent of the officers that have died behind the wheel of the car have done so in single car collisions and this trend remains in 2011. So the question remains...what will you do about it?
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