Law enforcement work remains a dangerous occupation. In 2009, the occupational injury fatality rate for police officers was 4 times higher than the U.S. average [BLS, 2009]. According to a new report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, line-of-duty deaths have dramatically increased – 40% – from 2009 to 2010 (NLEOMF, 2010). Possible reasons for this significant increase include budget cuts, the expiration of semi-automatic weapon bans, and a diminishing respect for police officers; but these are, at best, speculations.
It is not surprising that officers face an increased risk for occupational motor-vehicle death. Officers spend a great deal of time performing vehicle patrols, can be involved in high-speed chases, are often on the roads in inclement weather, and have a variety of objects in their patrol cars that divert their attention from driving. Officers are also at risk while outside of their vehicles when performing work along busy highways and interstates. While seat belt use significantly reduces the chances of dying in a motor-vehicle crash, there is some evidence that officers do not wear seat belts (Cowan JA, et.al., 2006; Oron-Gilad T, et. al., 2005; Eun Young N. 2011). In 2005, researchers viewed a random sample of 250 driving scenes from the reality-based television series COPS and found that seatbelts were used in only 38% of the scenes (2006). The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) recently published a review of motor-vehicle fatalities among law enforcement officers and found that between 1980 and 2008, 42% of the officers killed had used a seatbelt (2011).
NIOSH is undertaking what we believe to be the first state-wide study of attitudes and beliefs of seatbelt usage among law enforcement officers. This study will survey a random sample of Iowa law enforcement officers through their agency leadership. The study will include officers in municipal departments, the state patrol, and sheriff’s offices. As we begin this research, we would like to use the NIOSH Science Blog to hear from police officers, police administration, law enforcement unions, training academies, and motor-vehicle researchers about their experiences with motor-vehicle crashes and the usage of seatbelts while in patrol cars. We appreciate your comments. They will be invaluable in informing this research and ultimately the evidence-based prevention programs that are generated.
Thank you for your assistance.
Dr. Tiesman is an injury epidemiologist in the NIOSH Division of Safety Research.
Dr. Heick is a faculty member in the Public Health program at Walden University.