Intersections: Training to combat the enemy in waiting

There are some excellent police trainers working tirelessly on new programs that combat the enemy hidden within interesections

We often ask, “What can we do — right now — to prevent line of duty deaths? What kind of training must be done?” A few months ago, I wrote that the enemy in waiting for each law enforcement professional is each and every intersection they pass, and that clearance is the top priority in driving within those intersections.

While the tragedies with intersections and driving have been well documented, there is also some good news. If we just change our behavior and attitude with regard to this one activity, driving through intersections, we can dramatically reduce officer deaths. Do we as a profession believe that? Do we really believe that we as individuals, as supervisors, and as managers, can do something right now to reduce line of duty deaths?

To believe that change can happen takes only a brief look to our past. My father began his 27-year career in law enforcement in the 1970s and in that decade we averaged 110 officers killed per year to firearm related deaths (with a high of 144 in 1975). Through the dedication and hard work of many individuals, we have averaged 53 line of duty deaths each year to firearms over the past ten years (with a low of 40 in 2008).

We do not have to continue losing officers at alarming rates in vehicle-related incidents. In part one of this series, I mentioned that it would take “radical behavior” to turn the tide. In part three, I will examine some of the technologies that are helping to reduce intersection-related collisions. Here, however, I want to highlight some of the trainers working tirelessly on training programs that combat this hidden enemy.

Utah Department of Public Safety
Sergeant Doug Larsen with the Utah Department of Public Safety expresses his concern with the lack of focus on training with intersections. “I fear that we have for far too long ignored the training and priority of intersection driving within our training for law enforcement.”

Indeed, I was struck with this revelation several years ago when I looked upon a training class going through a pursuit course and on the surface everything looked superb. The officers were driving in control. Their steering, braking and cornering were exact but something troubled me greatly.

As I looked out on the sea of orange cones and fast cars, I knew something was missing. An officer would leave the course that I had worked so hard to develop and miss the most important aspect of that course: the clearing of intersections. I made a promise that day to never be a part of a training course that was not as realistic as I could safely make it and intersection clearance became a reality that day.

Lake Oswego Police Department
Fortunately, many other instructors have followed this important aspect of training. One such instructor is Officer Mike Brady with the Lake Oswego (Ore.) Police Department.

Mike sets up four-way intersections on his courses with cones simulating two four lane roads. Vehicles are initially placed in the cross traffic lanes and he uses large vehicles in the closest lanes in an effort to block the sight of smaller vehicles in the farther lanes.

Brady states that “after officers do this several times with stationary traffic, we add drivers to the intersection that will come into the intersection to simulate realistic traffic.”

Brady reiterates that all of the moving traffic is scripted with driving instructors behind the wheel but it is important to make the training as realistic as possible because without that, “the training will not translate to the real world.”

United Kingdom
Eddie Wren is a former UK traffic patrol officer and the current president and chief instructor of the Advanced Drivers of America (ADA). The ADA teaches the “System of Car Control” — which has been developed over an unmatched period of 75 years by the traffic patrol police in Britain. The success of driver training in the UK has been widely publicized and Wren’s advice is sound: “Correct technique for law enforcement drivers to negotiate intersections must prioritize safety before speed every time. There can simply never be any excuse for hurting or killing an innocent civilian simply because we, as the protectors of society, were driving too fast for the circumstances. Flashing lights and sirens cannot — and must not — be relied upon to clear our path.”

Nigel Albright has been extensively trained in the UK and is currently the South West Area Representative for RoSPA Advanced Driver and Riders and is an Advanced Tutor for that organization. He states that despite the training regimen of the UK Police, intersections do contribute to approximately 25 percent of all collisions.

“Where ever you have drivers on a converging path you are likely to have conflict and if the view is obscured then it is a simple matter of slowing right down. So speed for view is an essential element — what you cannot see can, indeed, hurt you. If you can’t pull up when something untoward happens in the distance, you can see to be clear then you are going too fast.”

The Red Mist
Both Wren and Albright describe an emphasis in training for officers to avoid “Red Mist.” Albright describes this phenomenon, “The one thing which is very necessary to avoid, of course, is the Red Mist mindset where the desire to get to the objective seriously degrades the threat perception and so the speeds and risk factor are correspondingly higher than they should be, sometimes with disastrous consequences. As the risk factor goes up so does the vulnerability factor and, therefore, the possibility of accidents.”

Two things are clear from speaking to instructors from Oregon to Utah to London. Intersections are extremely dangerous and training is the key to safety while navigating in them.

Sergeant Doug Larsen tells us why we have to keep striving for this training. “A lot veteran officers have never been trained on the fundamentals of safely clearing an intersection. They have learned it on the job.”

While it sounds simple, the truth remains that many officers working the streets this very minute have never been properly trained in the area of intersection clearance. As long as we ignore this basic training function, we will have to hope and pray that “on the job” training will prevent future tragedy.

I am tired of the enemy lurking within intersections — an enemy that continues to injure, disable and kill our heroes in uniform. It is time that we all do that “radical behavior” that will be required to put an end to this nonsense.

Check out the upcoming Police1 Technology Newsletter for part three of this series, which will focus on the exciting things happening in driving simulation and other technologies designed to help us defeat this enemy in waiting. 

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