Making a so-called routine traffic stop poses a lot of potential hazards for a police officer. Officers rarely know the occupants of the vehicle, or what danger they may pose. So, academies and department in-services teach their officers safety and survival skills to give the officer the best possible advantage when dealing with a threat from inside that car.
However, not all of the potential danger is inside the vehicle the police officer has stopped.
Many police officers have been hurt or killed by passing motorists – people not even involved in your traffic stop. Simply standing on the side of the road is dangerous. Add your emergency lights, and the normally oblivious driving public is suddenly drawn toward your vehicle.
Some training classes claim that drunk drivers are mesmerized by the flashing blue and red lights, and are drawn toward them like a moth to a flame. Personally, I believe that may be true. I do know that people stop watching the road, and start staring at you, when they see you on the roadside with the overheads on. When a driver stops watching the road, the car will naturally drift in the direction they are looking, which is, unfortunately, at you.
There are two things I always suggest to help reduce (not eliminate) your risk when conducting any roadside investigation. The first is to use your car as a shield. By this, I mean park your squad wherever you need to, to try and block traffic from hitting you. Too often I have seen police officers that were afraid to block a lane of traffic so they could more safely conduct their investigation. Don’t be afraid to upset a few passing motorists by slowing down their commute. We are talking about your safety here.
The second thing I suggest is to use the passenger side approach whenever possible. There are many good reasons to use the passenger side approach, but in this case, you are putting another barrier between you and passing cars. Should some idiot veer toward you, it is far better to have him hit another car and then you, than to hit you first.
Above is video footage from the in-car camera of Ohio state trooper’s patrol car. In 2002, this trooper arrives to assist a second trooper at an accident investigation on Interstate 71. A van veers off the roadway, striking one of the patrol cars, and seriously injures both troopers. Pay close attention to how fast it happens.
If you have not already done so, make sure you read our traffic stop safety article here.