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Operating Vehicles Safely in an Emergency

A police cruiser can end up in a collision that becomes a significant insurance cost to its department when it’s engaged in an eye-catching piece of police work, like giving pursuit to a fleeing vehicle. Even so, there are many other less exciting ways that a police vehicle can end up in a collision  — rear-ended while performing a routine traffic stop, or even striking something on the way to an ordinary service call.

When officers respond to an emergency and activate their lights and sirens, they enter a situation that increases the risk of a collision. Part of this comes from navigating the vehicle in a way that differs from ordinary traffic rules, passing through red lights and traveling at greater speeds, but traffic conditions and weather are important factors as well.

Here are several considerations for minimizing the risks of driving in an emergency:

Navigating intersections

When responding to an emergency call, navigating through intersections is one of the most challenging and dangerous actions.

Officers responding to an emergency may legally proceed through a red light, but they must first establish the right of way. This means coming to a complete stop and waiting for all other traffic to stop. The driver should then proceed with caution while monitoring the other traffic. Even when the other vehicles at the intersection’s green light have stopped, vehicles approaching the green light might not. In instances where officers must proceed across multiple lanes, they should follow the same process for each lane.

Review after a collision

In cases where a crash has happened, command staff will generally review any available in-car video to determine why the crash happened, and what steps could prevent a similar crash in the future. Command staff should also consider reviewing in-car video of calls for service where the vehicle moved through an area where crashes have occurred, but did not experience a crash, for indications of how the drivers navigated the area safely.


As a training tool, departments can video examples where the officer followed the proper steps and driving techniques. This can be a valuable opportunity for officers to see firsthand how to navigate a call on the streets of their own city or town. While online training or driving a course is helpful, nothing will compare to seeing the action in real-time, especially when there’s an opportunity to see the action on familiar roadways where officers drive daily.

By avoiding these types of losses, drivers can prevent damage to the municipal vehicle and property damage to a third-party claimant. Most importantly, preventing collisions will save lives. No matter how bad the call is, officers will not be of any help if they cannot reach the scene.

Members of the SC Municipal Insurance Trust and SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund have access to a free four-hour defensive driving training course from the National Safety Council. If interested, contact Chris Radcliff, public safety loss control consultant, at 803.354.4764 or