Research review: Preventing crashes and injuries among officers

The first known scientific evaluation of an LE crash prevention program demonstrates significantly lower crash and injury rates - especially among patrol officers


By Hope M. Tiesman, PhD, and Sgt. Lou Maldonado (Ret.)

Despite crashes being a leading cause of injury and death for officers, there is limited work on the evaluation of industry‐based, crash-prevention programs in law enforcement.

This month, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published an article in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine on the impact of a crash prevention program in a large law enforcement agency, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD). [1]

The LVMPD has developed a comprehensive, three-pronged, crash-prevention program aimed at preventing future crash fatalities and injuries. (Photo/LVMPD)
The LVMPD has developed a comprehensive, three-pronged, crash-prevention program aimed at preventing future crash fatalities and injuries. (Photo/LVMPD)

This is the first-known scientific evaluation of such a program in law enforcement and it was associated with significantly lower crash and injury rates – especially among patrol officers.

LAS VEGAS METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT CRASH PREVENTION PROGRAM

Within a 1‐year time span, the LVMPD lost three officers due to motor vehicle crashes. It was believed that behavioral factors may have played a role in the crashes and deaths, prompting the LVMPD to develop a comprehensive, three-pronged, crash-prevention program aimed at preventing future crash fatalities and injuries. Inherent in the program was increased accountability and stronger consequences for not following motor-vehicle related policies.

The first prong of the LVMPD program was policy-based. Two new policies were introduced, and two older policies were revised and emphasized.

Training emphasized enforcement of the intersection crossing, seat belt and texting policies. (Photo/LVMPD)
Training emphasized enforcement of the intersection crossing, seat belt and texting policies. (Photo/LVMPD)

The first new policy was a speed cap that restricted officers from driving 20 mph over the posted speed limit when using lights and sirens.

A second new policy required a supervisory check ride for officers who transfer into new divisions or those involved in a crash. The purpose was to monitor their on‐duty driving before they began or resumed work.

A re-emphasis on the training and enforcement of the intersection crossing, seat belt and texting policies was also made.

The second prong was a marketing campaign titled “Belt Up” that was used in hallway posters, patrol vehicle decals and videos shown at roll call.

The third prong increased training requirements to have officers pass a full EVOC course annually in their first three years of service and then every other year after that.

Using motor-vehicle crash and motor-vehicular injury data provided from the LVMPD, two analyses were performed. One analysis compared the LVMPD data from before the program was implemented (2007 to 2009) to after (2010 to 2013). The other analysis compared the LVMPD data to two similar-sized agencies (for comparison purposes) that did not implement a crash prevention program. 

We found that implementation of the LVMPD crash prevention program resulted in significantly lower crash and injury rates. Most important, these decreases were the sharpest in patrol officers. Comparisons to two other agencies showed no similar decreases in their crash and injury rates. Our main findings:

  • Before the program was implemented in Las Vegas, LVMPD’s crash rate was 2.2 crashes per 100,000 miles driven. After the program was implemented, the crash rate dropped to 1.9 – a significant decrease of 14%. Crash rates for the two comparison agencies remained constant or significantly increased during the same time period.
  • Before the program was implemented, the motor-vehicular injury rate was 3.4 per 100 officers. After the program was implemented, the injury rate dropped to 2.1 – a significant decrease of 31%. Motor-vehicular injury rates for the comparison agencies remained constant.
  • Agency-wide seat belt usage increased significantly from 87% before the program was implemented to 97% after implementation.
  • While the program was rolled out agency-wide, patrol officers were the primary population of interest. After the crash-prevention program was implemented, crash rates for patrol officers significantly decreased 21%, from a rate of 3.1 per 100,000 miles to 2.4. Motor-vehicular injury rates for patrol officers significantly decreased 48%, from a rate of 3.2 per 100 officers to 1.6.
  • For the 3-year period before the program was implemented, the cost of motor-vehicular injuries incurred by the LVMPD was an estimated $5.4 million. For the 3-year period after implementation, the incurred costs were an estimated $4.3 million. This was a cost savings of approximately $1.1 million. [2]
Changes to policy, increasing officer accountability and adding simple safety messages at roll call are all cost‐effective ways to create a stronger officer safety culture. (Photo/LVMPD)
Changes to policy, increasing officer accountability and adding simple safety messages at roll call are all cost‐effective ways to create a stronger officer safety culture. (Photo/LVMPD)

This study has shown that it is possible to reduce law enforcement officer crashes, injuries and the costs of crash-related injuries through the implementation and enforcement of standard operating policies, education and increased training. After the program was put into place, crashes, motor-vehicular injuries and associated costs all decreased. There was also evidence of behavioral changes; seat belt use significantly increased after program implementation.

Since the program was evaluated as a whole, we were not able to determine which individual program elements may have had the greatest impact. For example, we don’t know if the policy changes or the additional training were the most impactful. We are therefore unable to make recommendations about specific program elements. This is important because law enforcement agencies are diverse in organizational resources and in their capacity to implement comprehensive initiatives like a crash-prevention program. For many agencies, it would be challenging to implement the full LVMPD program. However, the framework of the LVMPD program can be scaled down. Changes to policy, increasing officer accountability and adding simple safety messages at roll call are all cost‐effective ways to create a stronger officer safety culture.

The NIOSH Officer Road Code Toolkit offers 40 safety messages. 
The NIOSH Officer Road Code Toolkit offers 40 safety messages. 

In an effort to help smaller agencies implement a motor vehicle program, NIOSH developed the NIOSH Officer Road Code Toolkit. The Toolkit promotes safe driving practices within an agency under a unified code: Drive to Arrive Alive. The Toolkit covers four topics: seat belt use, speeding, distracted driving and stress response. The Toolkit includes:

The critical next step for agencies is to determine which individual components or combinations can be scaled and implemented in their specific agency. And then to determine if these changes were successful in promoting officer motor-vehicle safety.

References

1. Tiesman HM, Gwilliam M, Rojek J, Hendricks S, Montgomery B, Alpert G. 2019. The impact of a crash prevention program in a large law enforcement agency. Am J Ind Med: doi: 10.1002/ajim.23032.

2. The cost analysis was not part of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine article. This analysis only included medical care costs for nonfatal injuries (data provided by LVMPD); the 3 fatal crashes were excluded. At the time the data were analyzed, 19 claims were still "open" and incurring costs. We estimated the final cost for these open claims by using the average cost for a closed claim during the same time period. For the cost analysis, the pre-intervention period included 2007, 2008, and 2009 and the post-intervention period included 2011, 2012 and 2013.    

Disclaimer: The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


About the authors

Hope M. Tiesman, PhD, is a research epidemiologist at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). She received her PhD in epidemiology at the University of Iowa where she was an occupational injury prevention fellow at the Heartland Center for Occupational Health & Safety. She has published extensively in the field of occupational injuries and worked with various occupations including the U.S. military, healthcare workers and police officers. She also serves on the International Association of Chiefs of Police Research Advisory Council. Her research interests include the prevention of workplace violence, suicide prevention, the occupational safety and health of police officers, and the scientific evaluation of workplace policies and programs.

Sergeant Lou Maldonado joined the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) in 1991 and retired in 2018. During his time with LVMPD, Lou served as a patrol officer, field training officer, motors officer, patrol supervisor and traffic bureau supervisor. In 2008, Lou transferred to the Training Bureau and supervised the emergency vehicle operations course. In this role, Lou was a board member on the LVMPD Accident Review Board, a tactical driving expert for the Use of Force Board, and a member of the Fleet committee for technical advice on patrol vehicles and equipment. He also completed two professional driving schools – the Bondurant High Performance Driving School in Phoenix, Arizona, and the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School in Pahrump, Nevada. In 2009, Lou participated in a national safe driving group for police officers that was initiated and funded by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training in an effort to use accident data and practical experience to improve officer safety while driving. Before his retirement, Lou participated in a 3-year LVMPD study on officer traffic safety conducted by Dr. Hope Tiesman with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. As part of the study, Lou helped structure and implement new department driving policies and training that resulted in significant reductions in officer-involved motor vehicle collisions and injuries.

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