An American police magazine article on traffic direction a few years back came as a shock. The main photograph showed what I assumed to be a police officer directing traffic, at night, wearing a dark uniform and no hat; he didn't even have a whistle! The author must be showing 'what not to do,' I thought, but no, this was an example of how it should be done.
"Okay! Okay!" I said to myself, "Let's not judge the story by the poor selection of photograph," ignoring the theory that one picture is worth a thousand words. I read on but it only became worse.
This officer's theory (and I say theory because he could not have survived traffic points long enough to develop good practices) was to stare down approaching vehicles. "Look like the boss, give assertive directions and stare down the driver" was his basic concept. He backed this up with a picture of another hatless, nameless, motionIess, assumed-to-be police officer, doing what he cares not to do.
I read further but had to take a blood pressure break before returning to discover the officer's credentials. He was a 13 year veteran police dog handler from Washington State.
"Okay, Okay, Okay!" I says to myself, "he found my key – he's got me wound up." The magazine went into the trash and I hit the keyboard to write this little ditty. It ain't the be-all and end-all on the subject but at least it may help justify my 20 years as a traffic specialist.
How do you want to be remembered in one of the few times you're on display to the public? Erect, sharp and in control or hatless, bored, ill-tempered and sloppy? You rarely get a chance to make a second impression and your life may very well hang in the balance. Here are my five basic rules.
Rule 1 · Be seen
Put on a fluorescent vest, wear white gloves, carry a flashlight. Park your cruiser with lights flashing near the intersection. All of the above is best but any one is better than none.
Rule 2 · Wear a hat
I don't know where this bare-headed, bone-headed, stupid idea of not wearing a hat came from. Your hat is a necessary part of your job. It is your professional identity and the most readily seen part of your uniform – the first thing that identifies you, from the furthest distance. It sits on the highest part of your anatomy and can be seen at 360 degrees, even above the roofs of most vehicles. It's the first clue for motorists that a "police officer" is doing a traffic point.
Want to make it better? Put a white or orange cover on. It is my firm belief that any officer working permanent traffic detail should wear an issue white hat. An optional helmet would be even better.
Rule 3 · Use a whistle
Car stereos will drown you out, no matter how loud you yell. Remember that you are directing PEOPLE, not bumpers and headlights. Use as loud a whistle as you can find. One long and one short blast for "stop" and two short blasts for "go" have been the most effective for me.
Rule 4 · Clear signals
Keep your hands high and never give a direction with your hands below your head. Motorists are looking there anyway (they're impressed by that hat) so you might as well communicate something that you want them to do. Remember that this ain't no game of charades.
Don't let the hustle of traffic worry you. Go at your own pace. There is nothing less lenient on time than a traffic light so why should YOU hurry! You are in control and no one does a thing until you want them to do it... Right?!
Show the largest mass of your body to the vehicles you want to stop (you may have to take inventory to decide if that is front or sideways). Don't permit traffic to move in one direction without stopping up the other direction.
When stopping a lane of traffic look back in the line and determine which car you want to stop. This may be three or four back but a good rule is to stop the driver you establish eye contact with and then point at them. (It's easier than trying to get their attention by riding on the hood or putting a well placed bullet in the grill.)
Rule 5 · CYA
Always think of your back (side). A true traffic controller develops eyes in the back of their head. If you can't see in one direction you have to attune your ears to it. Let them be your second set of eyes. Too many motorists appear to have prescription windshields – and have just switched cars. They don't see beyond their hood ornament and you are as good a target as any.
While we're on this subject, have you noticed that the chances of somebody stopping to ask directions is directly proportional to the amount of traffic congestion at your traffic point? They still think you have time to direct them to the freeway. Firmly, but politely, bring them back to reality. Advise them their wheels have stopped rolling and that is against the rules presently in effect (you can really use your imagination here!)