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Why did so many die in accidents last year

Officer deaths due to traffic accidents are up 16% for 2006! Those are the headlines but some of the analysis is a little weak in understanding what is going on inside our patrol vehicles and the role many of the modern tools for crime fighting may play in injuring or killing more officers.

Initial analysis says that officers are dying in greater numbers in traffic accidents because they aren’t wearing seatbelts? Interesting, the modern vehicle even has a passive restraint built in to protect the non-seatbelt wearing occupant…the airbag. Why then aren’t airbags saving the officers not wearing seatbelts? The answer given is that they are being ejected! Hmmm, ejected occupants come from a relative limited number of accident types so perhaps an analysis of what we are doing when we are killed in these accidents would help understand what is wrong with today’s patrol vehicle and the way we are handling high priority calls.

First, a word about seat belts, they are great if you have them on and Calibre is all for them as long as you train, yes, do your repetitions so you can take them off smoothly and quickly without effort in a sudden crisis or confrontation. The problem with seatbelts in this current situation is that they only matter once the bad event has begun, the accident is happening, the wreck is underway!

Any Risk Analyst will tell you the two ways of dealing with risk are: (A) hardening the target, and (B) avoiding the threat. When it comes to crashes I choose “B”, avoiding it! Remember, seatbelts are generally under the category of hardening the target.

The issue we have to face is why our officers are being hit from the side or rolling over, since that is where your average ejection is going to occur. We tend to see the roll over ejection from sleeping and distracted drivers all the time along the interstate system, and we tend to see the side impact accident when drivers fail to perceive threats coming from side streets or at intersections. The one thing in common is the driver is not attending to what is going on outside the car. Remember this rule about human beings: we do NOT multitask very well. We have a very limited capacity to attend to things. Under stress this capacity diminishes even more, and a high risk call is stress!

This brings us to the final issue, we have officers, troopers, and deputies, responding to hot calls and critical incidents which bring in the final element that creates an occupant ejection…speed! Combine that with the fact we are driving distracted, not attending to the roadway, not driving visually a quarter mile ahead to anticipate threats, and under stress. We are constantly being distracted by MDT’s and MDC’s or other devices that are demanding our attention while we are flying along the roadway. Our vehicles are turning into fighter-like cockpits; the military finally had to develop HUD’s or Heads Up Displays to keep their pilots alive in critical dogfights.

Driving to a high risk call or critical incident is a type of dogfight and I challenge you have your Risk Manager come ride along and see all the distracters that you deal with while responding to a hot call. Many managers will see the rise of officer deaths as just the failure of officers to wear seat belts and pass a General Order and think things are fine. Others may demand we go no more than five miles over the speed limit or some other such regulation without changing the way the “cockpit” is designed and becoming a greater and greater risk to the men and women rushing to harms way. Until we have HUD’s we need to go to verbal updates en route to what we might call “high adrenaline” calls and let the drivers focus on the critical skill of driving. I think we all agree avoidance is the best strategy in dealing with traffic accidents.

By the way, I wish someone would hurry up and design an affordable, working Heads Up Display for police vehicles!

Stay safe.

2007 ILEETA Training Conference and Expo
April 17 - 21, 2007
Chicago Area

The International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) will conduct its 2007 International Training Conference and Expo at the new Westin Chicago North Shore, located at 601 North Milwaukee Avenue, in Wheeling, Illinois in the Greater Chicago Area, April 17 through April 21, 2007.

Developed for criminal justice instructors, this conference has a two-pronged focus; keeping officers alive and safe from harm, and improving instructional delivery to criminal justice professionals. There will be a multitude of valuable topic offerings for instructors, training officers, and training administrators.

Additionally, the ILEETA Expo will offer a forum where criminal justice professionals can interact with manufacturers and distributors to gain information and learn about cutting edge technology affecting the products and programs used in the criminal justice training field.

For more information and to register, please visit the 2007 ILEETA Conference registration and information page

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