Traffic accidents have exceeded gunfire as the leading cause of police on-duty deaths for 14 of the past 15 years, Hearst Newspapers report. A 2011 federal study of 733 fatal police crashes found half involved only the officer-driven vehicle. Forty-two percent of the officers who died didn’t have their seat belts on. “It’s ironic that police officers present the greatest dangers to themselves as they try to help the public,” said Pat Tobin, a retired San Francisco police motorcycle supervisor who lectures on officer safety. “But honestly, that is the case.” The good news is years of trainers’ attempts to break through the pedal-to-metal, no-seat-belt police culture appear to be paying off. There’s a chance that nationwide on-duty deaths for 2013 will total fewer than 100 for the first time since World War II.
Among the primary reasons for the drop is safer driving. Vehicular-related deaths have accounted for 43 of 99 on-duty deaths so far this year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, an online site that tracks officer deaths. That’s five fewer traffic deaths than in 2012 and a drop of 19 since 2011. “This is a historic moment for law enforcement,” said Dale Stockton, a retired Carlsbad (San Diego County) police captain who heads Below 100, which offers safety training to police departments nationwide. “Barring a catastrophe, we’ll come in at a level as low as anyone has seen since 1944, when most every crime-demographic male was out of the country. No one wearing a badge today has ever experienced a year with a loss level this low.” Gunfire remains a major concern and is the No. 2 cause of officer deaths, with 29 recorded so far in 2013. But that’s an improvement over 2012, when 47 died from shootings, and a big reduction from the 67 officers shot and killed in 2011.