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BLNW Officer Injuries Studied


October 22, 2015
By Blue Line News Week

Police officers face an elevated risk of being injured in a collision when they are sitting in a stationary car as compared to low speed driving, as well as when they are responding to an emergency call with their siren blaring as compared to routine patrol, according to a new RAND Corporation study.

In addition, officers face a higher risk of being injured in a crash when they are riding a motorcycle compared to driving a car; driving solo compared to having a second officer in the car; or not wearing a seat belt compared to wearing a seat belt.

The findings provide the first quantitative estimates of the risk factors for injury to law enforcement officers in vehicle crashes – the largest cause of death among police in the United States. The results are published in <Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management.> No similar statistics are available in Canada but the findings could be a bell- wether study to which Canadian law enforcement may wish to pay attention.

The American study finds that about one quarter of all crashes and 30 per cent of injury crashes studied occurred when a police officer’s car was stationary.

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The study found that 80 per cent of all nonminor crashes – both those involving injury and those without injury – occurred when officers were driving without lights or siren and more than 70 per cent of the nonminor crashes occurred during routine driving.

Sixteen local, county and state law enforcement agencies across the US were surveyed to collect details about officer vehicle crashes and which crash characteristics are associated with officer injuries. The departments queried represented a variety of sizes; were geographically diverse; and employed about 19,000 officers in total.

The survey yielded information about 854 crashes, including 90 which involved injuries to the officer driving. Findings from the analysis include:

Officers were at three to four times greater risk for injury in crashes when their emergency lights and siren were on or when responding to an emergency call compared to routine patrol. The speed of an officer’s car, however, was not a significant risk factor.

The risk of officers being injured in a crash when their seat belt is not used is two to three times greater than when wearing a seat belt. This is similar to the risk seen among all drivers in traffic accidents.

Motorcycle officers are about five times more likely to sustain injury in a crash than an officer in a car and about ten times more likely than officers in sport utility vehicles.

A single officer in a vehicle has more than twice the risk of injury in a crash compared to having another officer in the car. Conversely, having a non-officer in the vehicle increased the risk of injury. A possible explanation is that a solo officer faces distractions from the radio, data terminal or suspect passengers.

Suggested actions for law enforcement agencies to take to lower the risk of injury include restricting motorcycle use to situations where the use of other vehicles is not feasible and developing alternatives to bracket mounted mobile data terminals. Officers often strike mobile terminals during collisions and agencies are encouraged to take more care in their design and function.