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Most Police Vehicle Losses Come From Routine Driving, Not Emergencies

A police officer’s office is the driver’s seat of a patrol vehicle. While on duty, officers may be required to multitask. They may scan their area for suspicious activity or enter information into the mobile data terminal. They may record the location of a call for service, use the police radio for communication and operate their emergency activation equipment. Policing the streets takes specialized driving skills and careful attention to keep officers and the public safe on the road. 

The SC Municipal Insurance Trust and SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund recently analyzed losses to determine the root cause of emergency vehicle accidents. There were about six times more claims related to routine driving versus responding to calls, with total incurred losses of more than $14.7 million. 

The Risk Management Services’ loss control staff encourages police departments to review their vehicle losses over the last several years for any opportunity areas related to routine driving. If there was an increase in collisions from routine driving, there may be an opportunity to focus on defensive driving training and raising awareness on the dangers of distracted driving. 

When an officer has a vehicle collision, that one loss can generate 

  • a workers’ compensation injury claim, if the municipal employee is injured; 
  • a first-party auto physical damage claim for the damage to the patrol vehicle;
  • a third-party property damage liability claim for the damage to the claimant vehicle; and 
  • a third-party bodily injury liability claim for injured occupants in the claimant vehicle.

Numerous claims can result from one incident, and these claims can be very costly for municipalities. Not only can the collision result in premium increases, the injured officer may be out of work and the patrol vehicle will be off the road until it is repaired. Also, there may be reputational consequences to the department if the officer is liable for a collision resulting in serious injury. For these reasons, police departments should be proactive in recognizing potential opportunities to improve driver safety. 

Departments must encourage officers to eliminate as many unnecessary distractions as possible, such as the use of a personal cell phone, or eating and drinking while operating a police vehicle. They should have an ongoing strategy to raise awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. A sample strategy could include a monthly initiative to raise awareness — it may be a roll call topic one month, a distracted driving eLearning course in LocalGovU the next, an email reminder the next month, and so on.  SCMIT and SCMIRF members have access to this LocalGovU course, Distracted Driving for First Responders, as well as others. In addition, a regional law enforcement training  is scheduled in May and will include a segment on distracted driving. 

SCMIT or SCMIRF members that need help in analyzing claims data or that need guidance in creating a strategy for improvement should contact Chris Radcliff, public safety loss control consultant, at 803.354.4764 or; or Bethany Pendley, loss control manager, at 803 933.1210 or