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Operating Vehicles Safely in an Emergency

Police vehicles are involved in collisions leading to insurance claims in many situations such as vehicle pursuits, responding to calls for service or conducting traffic stops. In an emergency, which a police car activates its lights and siren, the risk of a collision greatly increases because of factors like the speed of the vehicle, traffic conditions, how the driver steers the vehicle through traffic, and even the weather.  

Navigating through an intersection is one of the most challenging situations when using an emergency vehicle to respond to a call. Although the law allows a police officer to proceed through a red light, the driver must first establish the right of way. This means coming to a complete stop and waiting for all other traffic to stop. At this point the driver should proceed with caution while monitoring the other traffic. Just because the vehicles at the intersection have stopped doesn’t mean an approaching vehicle will. In instances where a driver must procced across multiple lanes, the driver of the emergency vehicle should follow the same process for each lane.  

Most command staff review in-car video of a pursuit or a collision to determine why the crash happened and how a similar crash could be avoided in the future. Command staff should also consider reviewing in-car video for calls of service where the emergency vehicle may have driven in an area where accidents have occurred.  

As a training tool, use video examples where the officer followed the proper steps and driving techniques. This is an opportunity for employees to see firsthand how to navigate a call in their own city or town. While online training or driving a course is helpful, nothing will compare to seeing the action in real time, especially when there’s an opportunity to see the action on familiar roadways where officers drive daily.  

By avoiding these types of losses, drivers can prevent damage to the municipal vehicle and property damage to a third-party claimant. Most importantly, preventing collisions will save lives. No matter how bad the call is, officers will not be of any help if they cannot reach the scene.  

Members of the SC Municipal Insurance Trust and SC Municipal Insurance and Risk Financing Fund have access to a free four-hour defensive driving training course from the National Safety Council. If interested, contact Chris Radcliff, public safety loss control consultant at 803.354.4764 or