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The Bottom Line on Seat Belts for Law Enforcers

The Bottom Line on Seat Belts for Law Enforcers

Dr. Richard Weinblatt

It was on a priority call for police service as I steered my Chevrolet Caprice patrol car left through a sharp high-speed curve that it hit me. As I strained to grip the steering wheel and maintain my position in the driver’s seat, so I wouldn’t slide to my right across the bench seat, I realized how close I came to a high-speed loss of control and crash of my marked unit. While I don’t remember the specifics of the call, I do remember the epiphany that occurred.

It was a moment that changed a young deputy sheriff’s perspective on law enforcement officers and seat belts. Neither the experience of seeing fatal crashes nor the presence of a departmental policy did so. Lucky for me, my literally hands on experience ended well and I learned a lesson. I wore my seat belt from that call on. This article is designed to hopefully save law enforcers from such an experience or worse.

Tragically, in the wake of a second Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officer’s death, it behooves us as law enforcement professionals to renew the cry for seat belt usage. The aim here is not to cast judgment of LVMPD Officer Millburn “Millie” Beitel or the death five months earlier of Officer James Manor under similar circumstances. That will be the responsibility of the authorities in Las Vegas. Rather, it is to address the topic generally and serve as that reminder that may make a difference.

Within the last few days, FBI statistics have been released that show a large number of officers, more than the TV line of death version featuring gunshots amid a blaze of glory, die from incidents involving motor vehicles. Few officers engage in gun fights in their career. Almost every officer has been involved in an on duty wreck or two. I remember one where a hapless soul in a pickup had the misfortune of rear-ending a marked patrol car- mine.

It is easy to get hyped up and speed to that call, sans seat belt. As I, and many supervisors and trainers have said for years, if you don’t get to the call, you can’t help anyone. Simply put, getting home safely at the end of our shift necessitates that we travel to and from those call locations within that shift in a safe manner as well.

Veterans also know that some agency policies (as well as state laws) wisely dictate seat belt usage. And some of those employers will have your eligibility for workers comp or other benefits voided if it is determined that you violated the agency policy by doffing the seat belt. This is not a good spot in which to be sitting

Additionally, it seems hypocritical to be writing seat belt tickets when the officer himself or herself is not complying with the state law. With the seat belt offense being a primary stop offense in many jurisdictions, the idea of giving a defense attorney possible ammunition to use to discredit you at a suppression hearing is contrary to good, ethical policing. We stand for more in this profession.

And speaking of hypocritical, wearing the seat belt is good leadership by example. Nothing irks a person who has gotten a ticket for an offense than seeing an officer committing that very offense and operating with impunity. Showing the community, especially our younger, more impressionable folks, that even police officers wear seatbelts sends a message to the community of which we are a part.

The bottom line: wear your seat belt. If not for yourself, than for your families and for your chosen profession.

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  • Mt_max50


    over 5 years ago


    In a urban city like SF I feel it could be an officer safety issue. Whenever I have the shoulder belt on, especially when I'm the passenger officer, the shoulder belt always gets hung up on my gun. I get in and out at leat 20x times a day and it's a pain. But having said that whenever we go over 40MPH or rolling Code 3 I'll put it on then.

  • In_remembrance_of_oakland_pd_max50_max50_max50_max50_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Well written article and sound advice that could save your life. An inconvience one can live with.

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 5 years ago


    Around Oct. 18, '09, two Riley Co. (KS) police officers responded to a rollover accident in the night time on a rural highway. They arrived, plowing head-on into the original crash vehicle situated in the middle of the road. Neither were wearing seatbelts and as a result, they were injured seriously. Fortunately, the first driver had vacated the crash vehicle and was out of harm's way. We read all the time of "in the line of duty deaths", many of which are officers involved in traffic accidents and many of them are not wearing seatbelts. Why not? Is this a "macho" thing, or what?

  • Picture_204_max50


    over 5 years ago


    i wear a seatbelt anytime i'm in my patrol vehicle. there are times when the belt has snagged my cuff case or asp while getting out of my car. frustrating ? , irritating ? , yes. since we patrol in all types of terrain, dirt,blacktop,gravel, canal banks, i'll put up with the 1 out of 100 snags .
    but not to say wearing a seat belt is gonna save me after a twelve foot fall or a rollover or crashing into a tree after a tire blows out; but with some luck and a belt , there are more odds on my side.

  • Absolutelawenf_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Great article. Be safe out there!

  • Photo_user_blank_big


    over 5 years ago

    Ive started wearign mine as well. Its not a matter of being above the law ladies and gents, we are 10 times more likely to wreck than anyone else...its about your life

  • Thumbnailcadtx9dg_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Excellent article. When I worked in uniform patrol, I went one step further and installed a four point racing harness [fleet approved]. It saved my life in two serious crashes. Can't say enough about wearing a seal belt..

  • Az_hp_plymouth_fury_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Having investigated many fatal collisions, I can tell you there would be many more people still alive if they had been wearing their seatbelt (including children and infants in booster/child safety seats). The laws of physics don't give a crap if you are an officer/deputy or a citizen who is not buckled in. There are plenty of other things out there to hurt/kill us so why take the chance with your life by not wearing your seatbelt? I don't know of a single officer who has not been involved in a collision and many who walked away because they wore their seatbelt. Enough said.

  • Caduceus_max50


    over 5 years ago


    This is a must read for everyone - citizens and LEOs alike

  • Wtc_badge_max600_max160_max50


    over 5 years ago


    BUMP...... Making it home safe at the end of a shift is part of the job.

  • Rachel2_max50


    over 5 years ago


    I counldn't agree more with this article. I may work in a small town but I always where my seatbelt on duty. We were trained in the academy to wear our seatbelts and would be failed if we did not. They did a very good job of training us at NLETC in these aspects and ensuring it was a normal reaction of when to remove our seatbelts and reinforcing that you are still able to use the equipment on our duty belt if we weren't able to get off our seatbelt and things went south.
    I figure if I am going to stop vehicles and cite them for not wearing their seatbelt I need to set a good example. Overall, Great article!

  • Pug_max600_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Wearing a seat belt is leadership not Bravado. You do no favors for your friends and family with an unnecessary six months in a wheel chair or worse. Do it for all of us.

  • 10_max50


    over 5 years ago


    First great article... I forwarded this one along.
    My old department has a seatbelt rule. Not once has anyone complained that they can't reach equiptment or their weapon.
    Only my 2cents

  • Donut_max50


    over 5 years ago


    When I started law enforcement I never wore my seatbelt so I could "bail out" at a moments notice. I honestly believed that my seatbelt might kill me if I pull up on a scene and the dirt bag is shooting.

    One day a Senior Officer chewed my ass for running code without wearing my seatbelt. I defended my actions by explaining my reasoning. The Senior Officer laughed in my face and made it his responsibility to retrain me.

    I came to the realization that it only takes a 1/2 second to remove the belt and access my weapon (I am left handed). I learned that only a stupid cop pulls right up to any call much less a priority call.

    The Senior Officer made me go to ODMP.ORG every day and report to him what was really killing cops in America.

    I would like to thank that Senior Officer for making me a better COP and for making me a safer COP.

    As an after note I was wondering if anyone had a solution for our large brothers and sisters who fill the seat completely and can’t access the seatbelt latch while it is stuck between them and the center console?

  • 004_max50


    over 5 years ago


    Very good artilce.

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