Officer Seat Belt Use
Seatbelts tangle up Kansas City police officers over safety and security
When a suspected drunken driver ran a stop sign and slammed into the side of a Kansas City patrol car in December, an officer got knocked unconscious.
Video from the patrol car’s interior revealed that the officer’s head likely knocked against his partner’s. Neither officer wore a seatbelt.
The wreck — one of several that recently injured unrestrained officers — has forced Kansas City police commanders to face one of the department’s worst-kept secrets: Some officers don’t buckle up while on duty.
It’s against state law. It’s against department policy. Yet some officers simply refuse. They don’t want their gun to get tangled up in the seatbelt.
Police Chief Jim Corwin doesn’t buy that excuse.
“Of all the people in the world, we should be the first ones to understand that seatbelts do save lives,” he said.
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NHTSA Study: Police officers often shun their seat belts
Officers were not wearing seat belts in 42 percent of fatal police crashes in the past three decades, according to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Police officers who don't buckle up say they might need to jump out of their cars to arrest someone or to stop a shooter, and the belt could slow their response. Or worse, the myriad equipment on their gun belt could snag and they would become trapped.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study released in January in part examined 733 crashes between 1980 and 2008 in which police officers were killed on duty in a patrol car. In 45 percent of the crashes, officers were wearing seat belts - slightly more than the 42 percent who weren't.
"We knew it was high, but I didn't realize it was that high," said Mary Ann Rayment, the occupant protection coordinator for the Virginia Highway Safety Office.
In crashes between 1990 and 1999, 56 percent of officers who were killed used a seat belt. But that dropped to 50 percent in the fatal crashes between 2000 and 2008.
Rayment tries to persuade police officers to buckle up. Their risk of a crash, she said, is far greater than getting tangled in a seat belt.
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