By Terry Baxter, Law Enforcement and Safety Specialist

I can still remember the first time I drove a patrol car back in 1978, to me it was exciting and I remember feeling empowered, driving a super powerful 1977 Plymouth Fury with operating top lights and siren, all at my fingertips. But the one thing that didn’t cross my mind on that day was the liability that I inherited along with this empowerment.

I am not being hypocritical as I write about this topic and I am being honest here, there were times I tested the limits with a patrol car, especially when I was younger, or was issued a new patrol vehicle, you had to see what it would do right? Well at least that was my thought, on I-29 at 4:00 am with limited traffic, on a 20 mile straightway back in the day. But no one, and I mean no one ever consulted or schooled me on the legal definition of negligence or liability. How lucky was I that something bad didn’t happen to me, to someone else or to the county’s patrol car while I was engaged in such activity, not only wasn’t it right, it was illegal. So, think about how many times have you too engaged in such activity and how lucky were you that something didn’t happen?

We are living in the age of liability, today there is a trend to pursue negligence or alleged negligence in civil court. Emergency vehicle operations is one of the most litigated areas of law enforcement operations. I know we all think we are great driver’s, law enforcement officers are supposed to be right, because the general public truly believes we train all the time relating to emergency vehicle operations. But high-speed trainings usually occur only once for most, normally at the training center during basic training and though we operate a patrol car and our personal motor vehicle every day without thought, no additional emergency vehicle training is usually provided.

Anytime you operate an emergency vehicle it must always be done with reasonable amount of care, whether responding to an emergency call or not, you still have a duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all other users of the roadway. Nebraska Revised Statues § 60-610 defines an emergency vehicle and Nebraska Revised Statues § 60-6,114 defines privileges and conditions.

Even though some privileges apply, the rules and laws of the road still must be followed, law enforcement officers must fully understand the legal risk with emergency vehicle operations.

According to publications patrol vehicle collisions are most likely to occur during ideal vision and ideal road conditions, the reason why they occur is:

  • Excessive speed
  • Lack of driving skills at higher speeds
  • Poor vehicle maintenance
  • Poor decision making

Look if you choose to engage in negligent emergency vehicle operations you increase the changes of:

  • Litigation
  • Workers’ Compensation
  • Loss of Equipment
  • Negative Publicity
  • Prosecution
  • Increase in Insurance Premiums

I realize there are times when speed is necessary, but I also know there are times when speeding is not. I don’t know of any agency policies that permits unjustified speeding! Routine, or normal driving on patrol should require speeds consistent with laws of the road and not be interpreted to drive as fast as we can. Emergency calls may require a need for some type of an immediate response, should that be the case emergency vehicles should be operated consistent with the provisions outlined in Nebraska Revised Statues as well as agency policies.

Speed kills, the bottom line is to ensure emergency operation is conducted in a safe manner, not a careless one. Remember the public sees this and we don’t want the appearance to be that statue doesn’t apply to us, so simply slow down.

I am sure everyone is aware of Below 100, an initiative to influence law enforcement culture to reduce line of duty deaths and line of duty injuries. Below 100 is designed to remind law enforcement officers of five basic principles known as five tenets:

  1. Wear Your Belt
  2. Wear Your Vest
  3. Watch Your Speed
  4. WIN-What’s Important Now?
  5. Complacency Kills

Just because patrol cars go fast doesn’t mean that we should, especially when the call for service or routine patrol doesn’t justify the “need for speed”.