One area of great concern to us at Road Safety USA is the welfare of state troopers and other emergency services personnel at traffic stops and highway incidents. In the interests of full disclosure, the writer of this post is himself a retired traffic patrol police officer.
This article is specifically about the risk of emergency personnel being struck by vehicles — something which tragically accounts for about half of all on-duty law enforcement officer deaths each year.
Earlier this month, on September 12, NHTSA published this very important and legitimate post on Facebook: “In 2017, there were 47 law enforcement officers killed in traffic-related incidents. Protect those who protect you #moveover ”
It would be dramatically safer if all other drivers did what the law requires and what NHTSA instructs in the previous paragraph by moving over. But police officers above all others know that far too many drivers are distracted, drunk, drugged or drowsy for this to always happen, every time without fail.
In virtually all — if not absolutely all — other developed nations, however, law enforcement officers significantly assist in their own self-protection by wearing reflective clothing so that they may more easily be seen by drivers, especially in poor lighting conditions, such as dusk or bad weather, and at night.
American officers, however, typically argue that wearing reflective garments makes them an easier target for a criminal with a gun — an understandable concern. But let’s consider two other important facts in this issue:
- Traffic patrol officers (or whatever title you prefer for this role) tend to work very close to the people they are dealing with, so does a reflective vest really make much difference to a person’s aim at such short range?
- Is the effectively-equal risk of being hit and killed by a vehicle somehow less important than the risk of being killed by a gunman?
On one occasion, an officer told me he would not wear reflective gear because he was a man, not a wimp….! Sorry, but give me a break! Preferring the risk of dying to simply being visible to passing drivers? Try telling your family that being macho is more important to you than simply coming home to them each day.
I quite recently had the pleasure of teaching ‘System of Vehicle Control'[TM] advanced driving to one of the officers in the driver training team for Washington State Police. When I mentioned my concern about conspicuous apparel to him, he delighted me by saying that all Washington State troopers have to wear reflective vests at all times when on highway patrol duties.
Congratulations, Washington State Police, I hope you lead the nation’s LEOs in this life-saving enhancement!
Does anyone know of any other U.S. law enforcement departments which mandate reflective gear?