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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).
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Arrive Alive: Police Must Reduce Single-Vehicle Crashes on Patrol

A first responder can provide no assistance to a person in need if they never get to the scene.

November 30, 2018  |  by Doug Wyllie - Also by this author

Among the five tenets of the Below 100 program is the admonition to "watch your speed" behind the wheel. This is as close to a "no brainer" as there can possibly be, but excessive speed has proven to be one of the prevailing factors in single-vehicle collisions. Image courtesy of Below 100.
Among the five tenets of the Below 100 program is the admonition to "watch your speed" behind the wheel. This is as close to a "no brainer" as there can possibly be, but excessive speed has proven to be one of the prevailing factors in single-vehicle collisions. Image courtesy of Below 100.

Too many officers are driving themselves into their graves—turning their cars into their coffins—in single-vehicle crashes. Earlier this week, we reported on three separate incidents in which a cop was killed in a single-vehicle crash.

Officer Leann Simpson of the Philadelphia (MS) Police Department was killed in a single-vehicle collision early Saturday morning. She was en route to assist deputies with the Neshoba County Sheriff's Office on a traffic stop when her vehicle reportedly left the roadway, hit a light pole, and flipped several times, causing her to suffer fatal injuries.

Officer Hunter Edwards of the Winchester (VA) Police Department was responding on Saturday night to a fight call several blocks away from his location when he was killed in a single-vehicle collision. He was transported to a nearby hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Deputy Tony Hinostroza of the Stanislaus County (CA) Sheriff's Department was killed in a single-vehicle crash Sunday night as he responded to assist other deputies who were involved in a suspected DUI vehicle pursuit. Deputy Hinostroza's vehicle reportedly left the roadway and struck a utility pole. Rescue personnel were unable to resuscitate him at the scene.

This column is written in the solemn memory of these three fallen LEOs, and in support of the friends, family, and fellow officers they leave behind.

This column is also written in the heartfelt belief that the best way of honoring the fallen is by training the living.

Three, Two, One…

A good friend once told me, "Too many cops are being hurt or killed by trees and phone poles"—and he's absolutely right.

Last weekend it was three officers, in two days, with one common theme: single-vehicle crash.

Research on ODMP revealed to me that—as of the time of this writing—11 of the 25 duty deaths involving a vehicle collision so far in 2018 were single-vehicle incidents.

According to ODMP, 14 of the 28 duty deaths in 2017 occurring behind the wheel were single-vehicle collisions. Further, ODMP indicates that nine of the 21 officers dying in crashes in 2016 did so in single-vehicle incidents.

That's 34 preventable duty deaths in a three-year span—nearly half of all officers killed in vehicle collisions during that time.

That's not even taking into consideration officers who were seriously injured but survived single-vehicle crashes during that time period—a figure that is impossible to know for certain.

Sidebar: It merits mention that the other two most common causes of duty deaths on the roadway during that three-year period were striking another responding emergency vehicle, and collisions with tractor trailer trucks—in many of those cases, officers were code three at the time of those accidents.

Back to the matter at hand: single-vehicle collisions.

Drive the Conditions

It is presently unclear—but will surely be discovered during the ongoing investigations—whether or not weather played a role in the death of Officer Simpson, Officer Edwards, or Deputy Hinostroza.

But as we enter the winter months it is worthwhile to remember that rain, snow, ice, fog, and other factors must be taken into consideration while driving—especially when running code.

When he was teaching me to drive, my father insisted on taking me out in inhospitable conditions as he repeated the mantra, "Drive the conditions, not how you've been conditioned."

Over, and over, and over, he said it—"Drive the conditions, not how you've been conditioned"—and I'm probably alive today because of Chuck Wyllie's iron will in his instruction those many years ago.

The statute of limitations has long-since passed, so I'll confess to doing some grossly irresponsible driving in my teens. My friends and I would try to get the fastest time on a winding stretch of narrow blacktop lined with trees and other looming hazards—we called it the Mario Andretti School of Driving.

It was a monumentally idiotic activity, but we never did if there was even a hint of weather—and because white-tailed deer vastly outnumbered people in that area, we never did it at night.

In retrospect, it's a miracle that I escaped high school with my life, but because of how hard my dad drove me—no pun intended—to adjust my driving to the conditions surrounding me, getting into an avoidable automobile accident was not one of the supremely stupid things I did.

Watch Your Speed

Among the five tenets of the Below 100 program—which I strongly urge every agency to implement—is the admonition to "watch your speed" behind the wheel.

This is as close to a "no brainer" as there can possibly be, but excessive speed has proven to be one of the prevailing factors in single-vehicle collisions.

Speed has also been a contributing factor in the tragic deaths of innocent civilians who are struck by police vehicles travelling too fast to avoid hitting them. Every time such a thing occurs, I say a prayer for my friend Kim, who lost her two precious daughters—Jessica and Kelli—in such a tragic incident.

Further, in way too many single-vehicle duty deaths the capabilities of the vehicle far exceed the capabilities of the driver. Think about it. Departments drop 300+ horses under the hood, add ABS braking systems, souped-up suspensions, and proceed to give an amped-up, hard-charging police officer the keys with the instructions to "get there fast"—because of sensitivity to response-time statistics.

Police leaders are then subsequently surprised when an officer wraps their vehicle around a tree?


Changing the Culture

"Dirty" Harry Callahan once famously quipped, "A man's got to know his limitations."

I reference Clint Eastwood's line in the 1973 movie Magnum Force not to be crude or cute, but as a way of introducing the idea that perhaps police departments should devote more time toward EVOC training, and to be more introspective of what is gleaned by both the instructors and the students involved.

Further, more emphasis must be placed on decision making, which can easily be done in a simulator. After all, driving too fast is a decision—one that can be altered by improved training.

Trainers and officers alike must be more realistic about what is possible, what is impossible, and where the line between the two exists.

Finally, the implicit instructions quoted above should be altered with one simple—but significant—edit.

Instead of saying, "Get there fast" agencies should say, "Get there ...PERIOD."

Predictable is Preventable

A first responder can provide no assistance to an individual in need if they never get to the scene.

Getting there is tantamount to going home afterward—which, of course, is paramount.

It's perfectly understandable that an "officer needs assistance" or an "officer down" call will ratchet up the inclination to push an officer's response to the limit—and beyond—but for countless other crime-in-progress calls, an additional handful of seconds added to your response time is probably inconsequential.

Running code to a domestic-violence call? Check your speed and ask, "Am I going too fast?"

Racing to a robbery-in-progress call? Consider the conditions and ask, "Am I going too fast?"

Remember that a confrontation between a phone pole and a police car is almost always going to end badly for the car and its occupants.

Law enforcement is an inherently dangerous profession—officers need not add unnecessary risk.

Risk-management specialist Gordon Graham famously says, "Predictable is preventable."

It doesn't take a fortune-teller to foretell that there are going to be more duty deaths from senseless single-vehicle accidents.

That is, unless police leaders, patrol sergeants, driving trainers, and line officers seriously re-examine the culture of police driving.

These tragic incidents can be prevented.

It can be done.

It must be done.


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