Car, truck and motorcycle accidents happen with alarming frequency these days. In an editorial that asks the question of whether the police in Baltimore have trouble driving well, the author says that the answer depends on who one asks. Not surprisingly, we all expect police officers to maintain exemplary driving records, on- and off-duty. And why not? We expect that most every law enforcement officer receives extensive training in high-performance driving. And, we know that traffic patrol officers spend many hours each day driving hundreds of miles as part of their job.
Still, there is the reality that police officers are human, and just like most of us, they can suffer from the same distractions and potentially deadly driving situations that civilian motorists face. As the editorial writer suggests, pointing to a couple single-vehicle car crashes involving Baltimore officers this past fall, these accidents raise doubts about the quality of training, management and culture of the Baltimore force.
Surprisingly, the columnist said that while he received numerous complains about his column, he heard nothing from the Baltimore PD brass, nor the city’s commissioner of police.
One retired police officer responded to the author’s article, suggesting that sometimes things just go wrong. This is true, as many a Maryland motorist would likely attest; dangerous situations do occur from deer running into the road to another driver’s actions causing distraction at an inopportune moment. As a Maryland auto accident lawyer, I know that the range of possible factors that can lead to a car or motorcycle wreck are too numerous to list here.
To be fair, police officers take an oath to serve and protect the public, yet we ask of them almost super-human abilities. When an officer is racing to the scene of a traffic accident involving a minivan or passenger car and a commercial truck, time can be of the essence and seconds can litterly mean the difference between a serious injury and an untimely and tragic traffic death.
Nevertheless, the author did say that he was surprised to learn several years back, when stories about accident involving police officers began hitting the newsstands, that very little was being done in the way of disciplining patrolmen whose accident frequency was above the norm.
According to another retired officer who wrote in, the Baltimore police department has yet to address some of the same issues that have been around for the past 40 years. One major challenge, reportedly, is the apparent lack of driving experience possessed by many police recruits, especially those from urban areas. That gentleman added that driver training does not appear to be a priority, at least from the police department’s standpoint.
In response to those comments, the author added a few of his own: On the issue of seconds counting, perhaps the extra time it takes for a patrolman to drive safely may be well worth the risk of arriving late. The safety of those innocent motorists and other emergency responders should, according to the writer, not be jeopardized on the off chance that a few seconds will make a difference between life and death.
In the case of one of those fatal single-car police crashes last fall, the author points out that no information is currently available that suggests the officer should not have put the priority on his own safety as he traveled at a high rate of speed to the scene of the emergency. The point that the author makes is that the officer’s high-speed response raises some important questions about the training he received as well as police doctrine.
Getting There: On driving safety, police aren’t a monolith, BaltimoreSun.com, December 12, 2010