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Keeping Officers Safe on the Road

There are many potential causes of death and serious injury in police work that are under the officer's control: driving, failing to use safety equipment, situational awareness and decision making.

For this reason, the SC Municipal Insurance Trust and the SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund have hosted training sessions like the Below 100 initiative, a program aimed at reducing the number of law enforcement deaths nationwide in a single year to fewer than 100 — something that has not happened since 1943.

The Below 100 program stresses five core tenets for officers: wearing seatbelts, wearing soft body armor vests, watching speed, constantly reevaluating to determine what's important for safety while on duty, and remembering that complacency can kill.

Vehicle safety
Several of the Below 100 tips involve the basics of safely operating vehicles, which is reflective of the major role vehicle accidents play in occupational deaths. Below are a few vehicle operations training program tips that can be used for roll call training, remedial training or individual officer training.

  • Conduct a pre-shift inspection, checking such things as tire pressure and tread wear, fluids, lights, emergency equipment and whether windows are properly clean. Properly set the mirrors and seat. Always be aware of the vehicle's blind spots.
  • Drive defensively by recognizing hazards, understanding how to prevent hazards from becoming a collision and choosing the safest driving maneuver to prevent a collision.  
  • Avoid distracted driving. Beware of manual, visual and cognitive distractions.
  • Avoid fatigued and impaired driving. Officers should always read the labels on any prescriptions they are taking and consult with a pharmacist or physician before operating a vehicle. Follow local policy and notify supervisors when taking certain prescription medications.
  • Back in to parking spaces when tactically acceptable. Backing in upon arrival, especially in parking lots, will greatly reduce vehicle collisions. Park in a position to avoid backing up when leaving.
  • Position hands on the wheel at 8 o'clock and 4 o'clock, or otherwise 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock for better control. This will also reduce airbag injuries during a collision.
  • Always wear seatbelts. Also, conduct training on ways to exit a vehicle quickly and draw duty weapons from a seat-belted position.
  • Operate vehicles within appropriate speed limits for the road and weather conditions present with the due regard to the safety of others. Avoid the four fatal driving behaviors: speeding, right of way violations, driving left of center and following too closely.
  • Nighttime driving reduces visibility. Slow down and avoid "overdriving" the headlights, with too much speed to stop in front of an obstruction suddenly appearing in the light.
  • Use back-up cameras or sensors to reduce backing collisions.
  • Tactically position vehicles out of the travel portion of the roadway on traffic stops. Use all emergency and hazard lights and remember to wear retro-reflective vest for increased visibility when appropriate for the job task.
  • Secure items inside the vehicle. Unsecured items can become a projectile and injure occupants.
  • Conduct annual vehicle operation training on policy and vehicle operations. The Municipal Association's Risk Management Services recommends officers drive a road course annually.