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February 22, 2012
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

An airbag for motorcycle riders?

Motor cops obviously like riding motorcycles, but they also place a very high value on looking good. Police bikes are usually cared for much better than sedans (possibly because most agencies assign the bike to a single rider, who is responsible for its maintenance), and the riders themselves are often more fastidious in their personal appearance. Motor boots are always shined, and the motor cops often have the option of snazzy accessories like leather jackets, which are unavailable to the common car patrolman. And we’ve seen you checking yourself out in the store window glass as you drive by.

It’s also a relatively hazardous assignment. I don’t know too many riders who haven’t laid the bike down at least once, and the consequences of doing so vary substantially. Motor cops don’t have the protection of a passenger compartment, seat belts, or air bags to protect them in a collision.

There is technology on the horizon that could remedy this situation, but I think there might be too much resistance on the basis of appearance.

The new tech is called the “Safety Sphere.” It’s a loose-fitting coverall garment with two layers of fabric, an explosive canister, and a safety cord connected to an igniter. The cord runs between the igniter and the motorcycle seat. If the rider is thrown from the bike, the cord disconnects and energizes the igniter circuit, powered by a nine-volt battery. Within five hundredths of a second, the nitrocellulose canister inflates the gap between the two layers of fabric, surrounding the rider with a protective cushion to soften his impact.

The outer layer of fabric is similar to parachute cloth, while the inner layer is a thin, elastic material. This type of uniform is foreign to U.S. motor cops, but relatively common in Europe. There, motorcycle officers often wear bright-color one or two-piece uniforms to improve both protection and visibility.

Beyond any protective garment solutions, there probably needs to be some re-thinking on the use of motorcycle police to provide escorts for VIPs and funerals. The Officer Down Memorial Page lists four motorcycle accident deaths for 2011. Three of these took place while providing VIP or funeral escorts. There are occasions when the security of a VIP is critical and a motorcade has to move through traffic to avoid creating a target for an ambush.

The Uniformed Division of the U.S. Secret Service maintains a motorcycle escort contingent to provide such escorts in the D.C. area. But in most U.S. communities, it’s fairly rare for a dignitary of that gravitas to visit, and motorcycle escorts are provided for honorary purposes only. It’s nice to have Aunt Grace’s funeral procession unbroken as it moves to the cemetery, and the Blue Angels are accustomed to police escorts between their hotel and the airfield. However, the graveside service can be delayed for a few minutes while everyone arrives, and the Navy can leave the hotel a bit earlier in the interest of not adding another name to the Wall.

There may be another rationale for foregoing a measure like the Safety Sphere. I imagine it wouldn’t be long before someone forgot to detach the safety cord before getting off of the bike, or a fun-loving colleague pulled it for amusement purposes. “Hey, watch Bob turn into the Michelin Man.” That might create a new category of videos on YouTube.

Speaking of YouTube, check out the video below, created by the inventor of the Safety Sphere.

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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