The near-miss files: Lessons from close calls on the roadways
“Near misses” often closely resemble situations where officers are seriously injured or killed, so it is equally critical to share these incidents and learn from them
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By Police Foundation
“As I proceeded to make the U-turn, my vehicle was now perpendicular to the eastbound traffic, and a Ford F-350 work truck loaded with construction supplies attempted to pass my vehicle in the oncoming lane. The F-350 then collided with the driver side of my patrol vehicle at an estimated 50 MPH. The collision caused me to lose consciousness and the patrol vehicle was totaled.”
As we say, “hindsight is 20-20,” and the above description of an officer involved in a vehicle collision may just save your life. A national initiative – LEO Near Miss – aims to help all law enforcement benefit from the 20-20 vision that results from a near miss.
In 2017, 36 officers died in the line of duty from automobile or motorcycle crashes. Eight officers have lost their lives in similar crashes thus far in 2018. Many more lose their lives while operating on the side of the roadway as the job requires.
If you’ve been on the job for even a short period of time, you’ve experienced one or two close calls you were thankful to walk away from. You may have shared these stories with a few close friends or side partners, but rarely are these incidents and the valuable lessons learned from them shared with officers across the country.
Why study near misses?
Each year, thousands of officers are almost seriously injured or killed in vehicle-related incidents while conducting traffic stops, participating in pursuits, managing traffic, or responding to calls for service or other incidents.
These close calls, referred to as “near misses,” often closely resemble situations where officers are seriously injured or killed, so it is equally critical to share these incidents and learn from them to prevent tragedy.
Take, for example, this story shared anonymously on LEO Near Miss of an officer pursuing a suspect in hazardous road conditions:
During a traffic stop, a patrol officer determined that the driver was wanted on a misdemeanor warrant. The suspect fled the scene, and the patrol officer began a vehicle pursuit. The weather conditions at the time were poor, and the street surface was covered by snow and ice. The suspect vehicle crossed a major intersection, with the officer close behind. The suspect made it through the intersection, but the officer’s vehicle failed to stop at the stop sign and slid into the intersection. The officer’s car was then struck and run over by a semi-truck and trailer, crushing the officer’s car.
Thankfully, the officer and civilian involved did not sustain any serious injuries, but the incident offers valuable lessons learned that should be incorporated into officer training. The officer sharing the story suggested:
Don’t pursue. The subject’s identity was known, so officers could have apprehended the subject at a later date. Officers should conduct a risk assessment regarding immediate apprehension versus the danger caused by pursuing.
The officer further pointed to decision-making as the primary contributing factor to the incident.
A similar look at other driving-related near misses where officers were not seriously injured or killed uncovers a recurring theme: the accidents were preventable. In each story shared by the officers involved, the officers’ decision-making was the primary contributing factor to the vehicle accident, and a consistent lesson learned was shared – officers should weigh the risks of a given action versus the rewards, echoing the Below 100 tenet of “What’s Important Now?”
Using near-miss data to direct police training
Using near-miss data, we can examine vehicle-related near-miss incidents in important ways. For example, many vehicle-related near misses involved no pursuit and very few involved inclement weather. The majority did, however, occur in low-light conditions or at night.
The officers reporting near misses were asked to identify any risk factors that may have contributed to the near misses in their view. The top three risk factors officers reported were:
- Decision-making (50%);
- Human error (41.6%);
- Proximity to roadway (41.6%).
Additional risk factors reported by officers include:
- Low visibility;
- Lack of appropriate equipment;
- Lack of communication/ability to communicate;
- Excessive speed;
- Equipment malfunctions.
For each near-miss report, officers are given the ability to indicate any protective factors that prevented the near miss from becoming more serious. The most common protective factor reported by these officers was maintaining situational awareness (25%), followed by the presence of back-up officer(s) and the use of a seat belt. Not all submitting officers provide protective factors.
While stories of close calls and the lessons learned from them may not always be new or unique, they can serve as invaluable reminders for officers and help them maintain situational awareness and appropriate officer safety tactics to keep them safe.
Unfortunately, we as a law enforcement profession need to do a better job of sharing these near misses with officers across the country and learning from them.
About LEO Near Miss
LEO Near Miss is a non-punitive, anonymous reporting system that allows law enforcement officers to share near-miss stories and lessons learned with officers across the country to improve officer safety.
The system is maintained by the Police Foundation in partnership with other national organizations committed to officer safety such as Below 100, Concerns of Police Survivors, National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, Officer Down Memorial Page, National Tactical Officers Association, Motorola Solutions Foundation, and the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, U.S. Department of Justice.
Anonymously share your near-miss story at www.LEOnearmiss.org to improve the safety of your fellow officers. Near-miss details are reviewed before they appear on the site to remove any identifying details, and even once published, a visitor must be vetted before accessing near-miss details. A mobile app is also available for iOS and Android devices.
1. As reported by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (www.nleomf.org) as of March 23, 2018.
2. See https://www.leonearmiss.org/tag/driving-safety/ for more information.
About Police Foundation
The Police Foundation is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing policing through innovation and science. Established in 1970, the Foundation has conducted seminal research in police behavior, policy, and procedure, and works to transfer to local agencies the best new information about practices for dealing effectively with a range of important police operational and administrative concerns.