The Hazards of Directing Traffic
Directing traffic may be the least
understood or ignored risk/hazard facing emergency services professionals?
Consider the threat posed by today's distracted driver, and the aggressive
tendencies of immature drivers. All too often, these kinds of drivers are
responsible for a majority of traffic collisions.
Today's public safety officer
while directing traffic must be at their best, keenly focused and aware of what
is around them, and never turning their back on close by traffic. When you least
expect a problem, along comes the out-of-control DUI or a speeding, reckless
driver and you're life could be over. Since 1998, 31 law enforcement officers in
America alone have been hit and killed by motor vehicles. Do you believe we may
have a safety problem for our personnel during traffic control?
In the summer of 1984, while working for the Kenner Police Department in
Louisiana, I responded to a major power outage, an incident requiring the
dispatch of six police officers to the dangerous intersection of Williams Blvd.,
and Veterans Highway for traffic control. This intersection on a normal day is
bad enough, a congested nightmare even with working traffic signals. Without
traffic signals, you can appreciate the dangers we were facing that evening?
With the traffic lights not working, it was pitch black, except for the glow of
airplanes flying overhead with their landing lights on.
At the busy Moisant Airport, an elevated runway passes directly over busy
Veteran's Highway. And for some drivers, this image causes an illusion of
approaching aircraft may hit vehicles on the highway. Too often, a startled
driver may suddenly apply their brakes, causing a potential for a chain reaction
With the parish lights out in a wide area and the airport operating on auxiliary
power, provided an eerie site to behold. The horror of this night intensified by
knowing we did not have reflective vests to wear. To better understand this
scenario, you should know that Veterans highway runs East/West, and Williams
Blvd., North/South: Each having a total of six lanes, three for eastbound, three
for westbound, three for northbound, and three for southbound. For safety sakes,
we had to literally surround ourselves in a circle of burning road flares.
Considering the hazards of moving traffic and poor visibility, we had to keep
our senses aware of what was around us.
Looking back on that scary night - all six of us were fortunate that no one was
hurt during this challenging ordeal. That doesn't mean we were not busy dodging
or jumping out of the way of inattentive drivers. I don't believe I have ever
yelled so much as I did that night, I still remember this hair raising
assignment as if it were just yesterday.
People sitting in traffic jams can quickly become unsettled and jittery, setting
off a negative reaction about being held up, delayed in traffic. Sitting and
waiting without getting overly anxious and impatient is hard to overcome for
most drivers. I'm sure, we've all experienced this kind of "stuck in traffic
reflex" at one time or another.
When directing traffic, you have to be extremely careful and anticipate that
inattentive driver - who is doing everything except paying close attention to
what's in front of them. And about the time you relax your guard, here comes a
speeding driver busting the intersection on a red light. Standing in and around
moving traffic is a very serious matter, and one not to be taken lightly.
Last year in Louisiana, we lost a motor officer who was escorting a long funeral
procession. And as fate would have it, an impatient driver waiting in cross
traffic sees a lull in the procession. Needless to say, she pulls out in front
of the approaching police officer and hits him. Tragically, a 28 year old
officer died that day, all because a driver became impatient.
It's no secret that we have a variety of "bad drivers" that are able to get
licensed. You wonder how they're able to beat the licensing system? Case in
point, last year as I was getting my drivers license renewed, an elderly lady in
her late 70's or early 80's, walked into the drivers license bureau with a hand
held walker. You had to feel sympathy, she could not even bend over to read the
electronic eye chart. So the drivers license examiner tells her to proceed to
the eye chart in the rear of the building. And what happened next, was enough to
unnerve any sane person. As she was heading to the rear of the building, she
suddenly turned right and directly into the wall, her companion quickly took her
hand and yelled in her ear - they said turn right not left. As the elderly lady
stood before the eye chart, the examiner allowed her to get extremely close, as
she called out all of the letters in reverse. After which, the Driver's License
person told her to sit on the bench and smile for the camera. I only mention
this to raise awareness about the kind of drivers on the road, young and old.
And so you see, driver testing is another separate discussion.
And when directing traffic, don't forget, we have have no idea about any
driver's qualifications or capabilities. So please, take a defensive posture and
treat all drivers on the road with caution, it could save your life.
Possibly, we need more emphasis on driver education and licensing about obeying
the directions of police officers and firefighters charged with traffic control.
The requirement that drivers entering an accident/crash scene do so with extreme
caution, and violator's who don't - will face severe fines/punishment.
TRAINING OUR OWN?
Are we doing enough to train our Police, Fire/EMS personnel in safe traffic
control procedures? Should there be more rigid training and certification
standards for all personnel to pass? Should we allow untrained emergency
responders to direct traffic?
I'm very interested in your point of view, and what you believe we can do to in
the public safety sector to reduce our chances of getting hurt while directing
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dee Dee Serpas is a retired police officer from
Kenner Police Department (Louisiana).
Currently, she is the President of the TAPS Memorial Web site.
Following in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, Sheriff Paul Berthelot,
Sheriff of St. John the Baptist Parish, and that of her father, who was
president of FOP Lodge 2 in the late 1950s, Dee Dee became a Police Officer.
First with the East Jefferson Levee Board Police, she also joined the Kenner
Police Department and was the only female to graduate from the academy that
year. Later, she joined the Jefferson Parish Sheriffs Office as a street cop.
This makes her the only known female in Louisiana to have held three commissions
at the age of 21.