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Why Traffic Incident Management (TIM) programs keep cops safe

These programs help to reduce traffic congestion as a result of collisions, while increasing officer safety on the roadways


Although TIM may not sound like a big deal, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund reports that 10 U.S. police officers were struck and killed by vehicles while working in 2017.


The ‘routine’ nature of traffic stops and accident response obscures the fact that roadway operations are inherently dangerous for law enforcement officers. Reducing the risk associated with LE roadway ops starts with understanding the problem and incorporating the latest technology and research to improve response. Watch this on-demand free webinar in which Lexipol’s Gordon Graham and a panel of experts detail how your agency can take steps to make the roads safer for officers. Click here to view.

Every police officer killed in the line of duty is a loss to their department, family members, friends and the community at large. Any training or strategies to reduce officer fatalities and injuries should be adopted by police departments – large and small – without delay.

One approach that can start saving lives today is to train officers in proper Traffic Incident Management (TIM) techniques. In plain English, TIM consists of a planned and coordinated multiagency process to detect, respond to and clear traffic incidents so that traffic flow may be restored as safely and quickly as possible, all while keeping police officers and other first responders on scene as safe as possible.

Traffic incident management responsibilities

Police officers have many duties at the scene of a traffic incident, including:

  • Securing the incident scene;
  • Providing emergency medical aid until help arrives;
  • Safeguarding personal property;
  • Conducting accident investigations;
  • Serving as incident commander;
  • Supervising scene clearance;
  • Assisting disabled motorists;
  • Directing traffic.

The biggest threat to officers while conducting these duties begins with a D.

“The biggest risk to officers on the roadside is what I call the ‘D Driver’,” said Grady Carrick, principal of Enforcement Engineering, a Florida consulting firm that specializes in TIM, traffic safety analysis and traffic enforcement countermeasures.

“The D stands for drunk, drugged, drowsy, distracted and just plain dangerous,” Carrick said. “These are the drivers who plow into police officers, firefighters and EMS crews working on the shoulder, demolishing their vehicles and causing public safety deaths.”

The need to be defensive

A good TIM program teaches police officers just how vulnerable they are while walking around the roadside and ways in which they can reduce this risk. It also explains why officers need to be constantly aware of what is happening around them, and why they need to act defensively at all times.

Situational awareness while on the roadside is key, whether you are sitting in your car or walking around outside,” said Carrick. “In an instant, a D Driver can end your life if you’re not paying attention. And it’s not just a direct hit that’s the risk: They could collide with something else that ends up hitting you.”

TIM strategies to observe

Adequate situational awareness is central to staying safe while on the roadside; so too is looking around the vehicle and observing traffic patterns before exiting and re-entering police vehicles. “You should be doing a shoulder check and look-around each time,” Carrick said. “You can’t take anything for granted, even if you have done it a thousand times.”

That’s just the beginning. TIM-aware officers give thought to where they are positioning their vehicles before they do so; both to provide protection from D Drivers, and to keep the roadway as clear as possible. TIM-aware officers also cooperate with other first responders to establish multi-agency approaches to safe roadside operations before they occur, and to coordinate their actions on actual incident scenes.

Other ways to keep TIM-safe:

  • Wear high-visibility reflective clothing;
  • Make sure vehicles are marked with reflective, multi-color markings to catch driver attention;
  • Have sufficient lighting on scene, both electrical lighting and flares.

“We can be so focused on our own roles at incident scenes that we miss the big picture, from ensuring that fire trucks and EMS vehicles can get through, to leaving room for tow trucks to clear the scene,” said Carrick. “To keep everyone safe – including the victims – we need to work together in a coordinated fashion. TIM works and is something police leaders can do for officers right now that will provide them with tangible, life-saving and injury-preventing benefits.”

Online training is available

The National Highway Institute offers an online TIM course entitled “National Traffic Incident Management Responder Training – Web-Based.” This four-hour course covers:

  • TIM fundamentals and terminology;
  • Notification and scene size-up;
  • Safe vehicle positioning;
  • Scene safety;
  • Command responsibilities;
  • Traffic management;
  • Special circumstances;
  • Clearance and termination;
  • Telecommunicators.

The NHI TIM course is aimed at police, fire, EMS and all other first responders.

James Careless is an award-winning freelance writer who covers the public safety sector. His articles have been published in fire, EMS and law enforcement publications across North America.