In 1999 and 2003, car crashes topped guns as the No. 1 killer of on-duty officers.Some of the possible causes: more officers on the road or more civilians using cell phones. But a bigger factor may be inadequate training and lack of protective equipment.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund said that in the decade ended last year, 477 officers died in auto accidents, up from 369 in the previous decade and 342 in the decade before that.
Nearly all law enforcement officers receive driver training, but standards vary, and refresher courses are rare. [National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund spokesman Bruce] Mendelsohn said that leaves some officers ill-prepared for dangerous situations.
"High-speed driver training, certainly, is expensive," he said, "but that cost is nothing compared to the death of an officer."
Mr. Mendelsohn also said officers could help themselves by buckling up and wearing body armor.
He recommended the kind of seat belts racecar drivers use. They latch in front of the chest, not at the hip, allowing more movement.
Mike Robb of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center of the Homeland Security Department, in Glynco, Ga., helps run a training program for federal officers.
Officers train in the vehicles they will use on the job to get comfortable driving the powerful machines, which might differ significantly from their civilian cars. Mr. Robb also prepares officers to pursue criminals safely. "There's a stress that goes with these responses," he said.