Arrive Alive

Law enforcement commanders, trainers, and officers must work to reduce single-vehicle crashes on patrol.

Doug Wyllie Crop Headshot

Doug Wyllie is contributing web editor to POLICE Magazine.Doug Wyllie is contributing web editor to POLICE Magazine.Photo courtesy of Doug Wyllie

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

According to, 10 officers were killed in single-vehicle crashes in 2018, 14 in 2017, and nine in 2016. That's 33 preventable duty deaths in a three-year span.

And 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.

Weather and other factors must always 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—and I'm probably alive today because of Chuck Wyllie's iron will in his instruction those many years ago.

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 traveling 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?


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 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."

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.

Doug Wyllie is contributing web editor for POLICE.

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