Who is Not Wearing a Seatbelt?

Yesterday morning, I read an article about police officer deaths.

Citing multiple studies, the article stated that one particular cause of death for police had risen from around 26% of the total fatalities in 1982 to 54% in 2007.

What is activity is putting officers at greater risk?  Shootings? Stabbings? Heart attacks?

None of the above.

The cause of death contributing to more loss of life is traffic fatalities. 

Specifically, experts believe the problem resides with police officers not wearing seatbelts:
...Up until 2000, Sheriff Magazine reports, in its May-June 2010 issue, that law enforcement traffic deaths were at about the same rate as the general population, but since then the trends have diverged, with the rate for the general population falling and the rate for officers rising markedly.

So is it that police are less trained or more reckless? Are they more likely to be involved in high-speed chases? Or does it have anything to do with the ubiquitous Ford Crown Victoria?

A "click it or ticket" double standard?

Likely, none of the above.
The interesting finding from the federal government's Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS): Officers themselves aren't buckling up. A surprising 39 percent of officers killed in car crashes since 1996 didn't have their seatbelt fastened. And younger officers might not be doing any better; those aged 20 to 39 account for 69 percent of all fatal crashes, according to Sheriff.   
According to the FARS analysis, says Sheriff, 42 percent of fatal law-enforcement officer deaths involve a single-vehicle impact with an object off the road—with the front of the vehicle in 48 percent of crashes. The majority of crashes occurred on a dry, straight, level stretches of roadway.
And 24 percent of fatal crashes involved the ejection of the occupant—indicating the seatbelt wasn't fastened...

Look, there are times when it may not be prudent for an officer to wear his/her seatbelt.

For instance, the officer is involved in a vehicle pursuit and the offenders indicate that they are going to bail from their vehicle and run or confront the pursuing officer.  Then, the precious time saved not having to mess with unhooking a belt to access a weapon and/or initiate a foot pursuit can be critical for the officer.

I did laugh at this retired officer's comment that he "refused to wear them" for safety concerns.  I think he means that he furtively chose not wear a seat belt and was fortunate that none of his supervisors noticed it--lucky as well that a drunk driver did not crash into his vehicle at 70 mph. 

In any event, many police agencies mandate by policy that officers will wear seatbelts while operating or riding in agency vehicles.

Requiring officers to use safety belts makes sense for two reasons. 

First, the public expects it.  If an officer is going to write tickets for seat belt ordinances, he/she best be seen leading by example.  Officers driving on patrol without buckling up looks bad, and does detracts from public relations.

Second, police drive fast as a part of the job.  Since research has consistently shown that seatbelts save lives; the argument for protecting police officers involved in vehicle collisions is no different than with saving any other driver: buckling yourself reduces the chance that you (the driver or passenger) will be launched at a high rate of speed from a vehicle at impact. 

The problem of officers not wearing seat belts should be an easy one for administrators to correct:

Mandate their use and then have supervisors enforce the rule.

The "refusals" by officers will be short-lived, and soon seatbelt wearing will be part of their conditioning.

The resulting effort sure beats reading recent stories like these from Houston, Las Vegas, and St. Louis.  


The photo was used from here.


Jackie said...

I'm not sure what it is, but LEO's tend to have an "i'm invincible" attitude. My very good friend is a LEO with about 5 years on the job.

He NEVER wore his seatbelt despite being nagged to death by me, the sgt. and everyone else. (I actually refused to let him drive me home in his cruiser once because he wasn't wearing his seat belt). It drove me crazy as he always wore his seat belt when driving his own car but never in the cruiser!
Then one day he was driving and had a near accident,(never got the full details) but it went something like person cuffed in the back seat was yammering and he was distracted by that and ended up slamming his breaks on hard/avoiding something/possibly hit something.
Physics lesson 101 objects in motion tend to stay in motion. He was going at a decent speed and ended up his body (chest) hit the steering wheel with enough force that he had knarly bruises for a while(I know I saw them). His seat belt would have/should have locked to prevent that, if he had been wearing it. The incident was enough to convince him to wear his seatbelt. Now he's the biggest "Seat belt for safety" promoter. He says he actually feels safer with the belt on, and it doesn't impeade him in any way.

SO I guess the point of that ramble (Forgive me i'm tired) is that there is no reason to not wear your seat belt. Maybe they need to implement a "click it or ticket" program focoused on LEO's...

ps. really sorry if that ramble made no sense

My Husband's Watching TV... said...

I work for a municipality and our Safety person is all over us for wearing seatbelts. One time someone wasn't wearing it in the parking lot and they got a reprimand so I can only imagine what she does if she sees/finds out one of our officers isn't wearing one. Nice post Slam!

Jingle said...

people risk one's life not to wear seat belt, it is up to themselves to follow the traffic law...
have a fun day!

LadyFi said...

Is wearing a seat belt a legal requirement in the US? I'd never dare go in a car these days without one.

LisaF said...

hmmmm, I might see a citizen's arrest in the near future!

Kell said...

That's kind of crazy.. it seems like it would be hard to determine when a good time would be for a police officer to wear a seatbelt. I mean, being in a high speed chase... you'd think they definitely should wear one. At the same time, they may need to quickly get out of their vehicle. Tricky tricky situation!

Crystal Escobar said...

Oh wow, now that is crazy! It's funny that they wouldn't wear seat belts when I'm sure they see all kinds of accidents and fatalities because of not wearing seat belts.

Bob G. said...

I've always believed that you TEACH...by EXAMPLE.

Good post.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks all.

@ Jackie: Thanks for the story--it makes sense.

@ LadyFi: In the US, there is not federal law requiring drivers to wear a seatbelt, each state can decide whether to make it illegal or not. Forty-nine of the fifty states have some sort of seatbelt requirement--with New Hampshire the only one not requiring drivers to buckle up.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Oh, my goodness, who would have thought!

Momma Fargo said...

I wear my seatbelt! Except under very rare circumstances do I take it off.


This is an amazing story! I will pass this on to some of my cop friends.

Thanks for the info.


Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
Over at Sergeant Says blog, he had a post on seat belts an the problems of pursuit.

His take was to wear it, then unlatch it a couple minutes ahead of time if you could predict a stop and run suspect. Otherwise, just to wear it.

Anyway, Great Post!
Any LEO death is too many. Any one.

Ann T.

carma said...

this is just crazy. A local detective lost her life a few weeks ago - not only was she not wearing a seatbelt, but she was over 2 x the legal alcohol limit. Senseless death - and she left behind 2 kids

Holly said...

We grew up never wearing a seat belt. The law in CA went into effect about 1 month after my 16 b'day - then you had to be pulled over for a traffic violation - guess who got pulled over...ME! I was pulled over for possible truancy (during lunch hour at an open campus). My Dad was in a horrible accident while in a pursuit and thankfully had the seatbelt n and swears by them now.