Buckle Up For Safety. Click It Or Ticket. Protected Or Ejected. No matter what clichéd phrase you want to throw out, the message is always clear — seatbelts save lives. Not wearing one has consequences, be they financial or mortal. These are the kinds of missives we relay to the citizenry at large on a daily basis. We’ve all been to heinous crashes where someone’s life was severely, if not permanently changed, by not wearing a seatbelt. Soccer moms: there’s no excuse for you not to have your child properly secured in their safety seat. Soccer dads: set a good example and belt your ample behind in the driver’s seat. Your kids are watching you.
But what about cops? Are we any better? Are we leading by example or are we the royal court of hypocrisy? As a motor, I don’t really have that issue, since my ticket is more easily punched than those of you surrounded by steel on four wheels. But when I’m pushing a patrol car on a beat, I wear mine for a number of reasons.
I’m the son of a retired Fire Captain so I was raised using seatbelts. At damn near 40 years of age, I still hear my dad’s voice, “put that belt on, Tiger.” It also happens to be department policy for the agency I work. To be sure, my personal habits will forever supersede department policy, but I don’t think the why is as important as the act itself.
This is from a real police crash. Look carefully and you’ll notice the driver’s seatbelt is neatly retracted. Any bets if it was actually in use at the time of the collision? Photo: Jim Donahue
OFFICER SAFETY MYTHS
We all know fellow officers who won’t wear their seatbelts at work. What’s their excuse? I’ve heard a number of arguments over the years and I think the most cited is the officer safety myth. The claim is you don’t want your movements restricted by a seat belt in case the lead is flying and you need to be able to get out quick. It may sound good in theory, but how often have you been shot at while driving? How about when you arrive at a call? These occasions are few and far between and this excuse is similar to the guy who claims wearing a seatbelt could actually cause injury or death in a collision. Statistics continue to pound these myths into the ground.
In october 2006, I was rear-ended by a drunk driver while I was stopped at a red light in my patrol car. I took an impact of about 25-30 MpH; if I hadn’t been wearing my seatbelt, my injuries would almost certainly have been more severe. I know a lot of officers who’ve been involved in on-duty collisions — I don’t know of any who were shot while sitting in their cars or driving.
Another officer safety myth is the belief you’re saving time by removing your seatbelt in preparation for a hasty exit from the patrol car just prior to arriving on the scene of a hot call. Some of you fi nd this to be a gray area and put expediency over safety. In reality you’re expediency is only in the form of a fraction of a second, but your safety factor plummets. It’s quite possible to crash within that last block of travel or have the situation shift to a pursuit. Either way, you’d be unbelted and greatly increasing your chances of injury or death.
We’ve all seen ‘em — ad campaigns for seatbelt enforcement. Remember, it says, “No Exceptions.” That means you too.
It’s hard to argue with the statistics of seat belt usage. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the national average of unrestrained passenger vehicle occupant fatalities (drivers included) in 2008 was 55 percent. oregon and California fared the best, at 35 and 38 percent, respectively.
Most states have mandatory seatbelt-use laws; New Hampshire is the only one that doesn’t. I can’t speak for other states, but in California there’s no exemption for cops (check out 27315(d)(2) CVC). And many agencies have policies not only pertaining to officer use, but mandate prisoners be properly restrained. If you’re injured or killed in a collision and you’re found to have been in violation of state law and/or policy, I guarantee you’re at risk of receiving no or greatly reduced work comp coverage. And if it’s a career-ending injury … you see how this can really snowball on you.
As budget woes continue to worsen, think of this. If you don’t follow law or policy to restrain your prisoner and they get hurt or killed in a crash, you may fi nd your agency pushing the civil liability onto you. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of money layin’ around. Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I think he was on to something.