If your agency isn’t using road flares to protect officers, it should be
The data speaks for itself
By Ptl. Joseph Fink, MBA
Many areas across the United States have move-over laws. Many motorists ignore them. This puts officers at an increased risk when conducting roadside stops and investigations.
My own agency in Ohio has had several cruisers struck by drivers who failed move over and slow down. We tried to become more visible and reduce crashes by making overhead lights all blue and having lower power settings on the light bar for nighttime stops. That helped some, but it wasn’t enough. It was the flare that really made a difference.
To explain how, this article will share the findings of a study my night shift platoon conducted using flares. After collecting data from 36 traffic stops, we came to two important conclusions.
- Flares dramatically improve driver compliance with move-over and slow-down laws.
- Flares help identify drivers suspected of OUI, leading to more arrests.
I hope that sharing what worked for us and improved our safety could benefit your officers’ safety as well.
Here’s how we did it.
For the study, we surmised that placing a road flare in the right lane of the interstate approximately 50-100 feet behind the last cruiser will prompt cars to move out of the right lane as required by law.
[Author’s note: Road flares, laid flat, will not cause damage to a vehicle if run over.]
We conducted 55% of stops with a road flare in the right lane and 45% of stops without a flare. There was a noticeable and immediate change in driver behavior when a flare was present. We also learned that drivers who fail to move over for flares are more likely to be impaired. Thus, flares made it easier to identify suspected impaired drivers.
The data was collected randomly on night shifts in 2021 between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. from July through December. In total, we collected data from 36 traffic stops. Of those 36 stops, 20 were conducted with a flare and 16 were conducted without a flare. All the traffic stops were made on Ohio Interstate 90 and Interstate 271 in areas with a minimum of three, one-way lanes of travel and when all lanes were open. The flares were only deployed if the traffic stop turned into a longer investigation (i.e., searches, impaired drivers, K-9 utilization, etc.).
[Author’s note: For the purposes of this study, we did not take into consideration the variables of each stop, including driving habits, road conditions, lighting conditions, etc.]
Here's what we found:
The 36 traffic stops were compiled and analyzed. As seen in Table 1, we documented 65 incidents where a driver failed to move over or slow down as required by law in Ohio while police were conducting traffic stops on the interstate. As you can see, most (45) of the infractions were recorded at the Rockefeller location. The difference in driver compliance with flare versus no-flare at Rockefeller was staggering, with 41 out of 45 drivers failing to move over without a flare, but only four failing to move over when a flare was present. Of the total 65 vehicles that failed to move over, only 12.3% or eight vehicles failed to move over when a flare was present, versus 87.6% or 57 vehicles that failed to move over when no flare was present.
On average, the total number of vehicles that failed to move over or slow down regardless of a flare being present was 1.8 cars per stop. If no flare was present, the average increased to 3.56 cars per stop. If there was a flare, the average dropped to 0.4 cars per stop. This data suggests that placing a flare in the right lane significantly lowers the average number of drivers who fail to slow down or move over for traffic stops, thus increasing officer safety.
Flares catch impaired drivers
Of the eight drivers who failed to move over when a flare was present, six of them were later arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or a combination. This data suggests a 75% chance of OUI if a driver fails to move over or slow down when a flare is present, or if they run over the flare. No drivers were arrested for OUI when no flare was present during this study.
The highest location for recorded observations of failure to move over or slow down was along Interstate 90 near Rockefeller Road. While this location accounts for 50% of incidents with a flare present, it only accounted for two of the six arrests for operating a vehicle under the influence, or about 33%. The location that accounted for the most arrests with a flare present was Interstate 271 southbound. In that location, four vehicles failed to move over or slow down. Of those four vehicles, all four drivers were later arrested for operating a vehicle under the influence.
This data confirms our hypothesis that placing a flare 50 to 100 feet behind a cruiser during a traffic stop will significantly increase driver compliance to move over or slow down, as required by law. Flares are an easy, cost-effective way to increase officer safety while conducting roadside investigations. And, while it was not the intention of the study, our data suggests that flares help identify impaired drivers, which leads to more arrests and increased safety for the general public.
We hope that what worked for our agency could keep more officers safe by reducing the number of officers who are struck, injured or killed during roadside stops. Stay safe and stay visible.
For more information on the Willoughby Hills Study, email Ptl. Fink at JFink@willoughbyhillspolice.org.
About the author
Ptl. Fink has been in law enforcement since 2010 and is currently assigned to the night shift for the City of Willoughby Hills, Ohio. Fink earned his Master of Business Administration in 2020 and holds a Bachelor of Criminal Justice, Justice Administration. Fink holds several certifications and is a qualified law enforcement instructor in Field Training and OVI detection, apprehension and prosecution.