BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Suggested New Year's resolution for police
officers: "I will wear my seat belt."
Results of a study published in the January issue of the
Journal of Trauma show that unbelted officers are 2.6 times
more likely to die if their patrol car crashes than officers who
use a seat belt.
"More police officers died from traffic accidents in 2003 than
from gun-shot wounds," said Dietrich Jehle, M.D., associate
professor of emergency medicine at the University at Buffalo School
of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and lead author on the
"The fact that traffic-related crash fatalities now are greater
than the number of officers killed by felons suggests this issue
needs to be revisited on a national scale," he said.
The researchers found that rushing to a crime scene was not the
major reason for not buckling up, as might be expected. The
findings showed that 60 percent of fatal crashes occurred when
police were responding to non-emergency calls. Seat belt use was
slightly lower for these calls.
The research was conducted at the UB Center for Transportation
Injury Research (CenTIR), which maintains research sites at the
Calspan UB Research Center in suburban Buffalo and at the
UB-affiliated Erie County Medical Center, where Jehle is CenTIR
The researchers analyzed all automobile crashes between 1997 and
2001 involving a fatality in a "marked" police vehicle. The data
were collected by the national Fatality Analysis Reporting System
(FARS). Only occupants in the police vehicle involved in the crash
and only crashes in which information on seat belt use was
available were included in the analysis.
There were 516 occupants of police cars that met the study
criteria. Of those, 106 died. Twenty percent of all occupants, or
104 people, were not belted during the crash. Results showed that
40.4 percent of the unbelted occupants died, compared to 15.5
percent of those wearing seat belts.
The statistics did not differentiate between police and civilian
deaths. However, 96 percent of the patrol car occupants were in the
front seat (driver or right front), Jehle said, noting it is
unusual for anyone but an officer to ride in the front seat.
"Civilians are often ticketed for not wearing their seat belts,
but paradoxically, police officers are exempt from this law because
of the amount of additional gear they have to wear," Jehle
"The thought is that seat belts can get tangled up in the gear.
Plus, officers get in and out of their cars many times a day, which
makes buckling up an inconvenience. Even police departments that
have seat belt rules often don't enforce them vigorously," he
One way to make wearing seat belts more acceptable to officers
would be to improve the technology, said Jehle. "Belts could be
engineered to release as soon as the door opens or when the car is
shifted into 'park.'"
Also contributing to this research were David G. Wagner, a UB
medical student, James Mayrose, Ph.D., UB research assistant
professor of emergency medicine and mechanical and aerospace
engineering, and Usman Hashmi, a UB premedical student.
The research was supported in part by a grant from the Federal
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