Officer Struck While Assisting with Temporary Traffic Control on an Interstate—Texas
On February 25, 2018, a 63-year-old police officer was struck by a vehicle, while directing traffic on a three-lane interstate highway. The officer had responded to a motor vehicle versus pedestrian hit and run fatality on the interstate and was tasked to assist with traffic control. A vehicle that was driven by an individual under the influence of a prescription drug affecting the central nervous system (CNS), traveling at approximately 68 mph, approached the scene, and failed to funnel off the interstate exit lane, striking the officer. The officer was transported to the hospital in serious condition and succumbed to his injuries on April 27, 2018.
Occupational injuries and fatalities are often the result of one or more contributing factors or key events in a larger sequence of events that ultimately result in the injury or fatality. NIOSH investigators identified the following unrecognized hazards as key contributing factors in this incident:
- Fire apparatus on scene for initial incident were not utilized for continued scene protection
- Law enforcement officer standing in an area exposed to moving traffic
- Impaired driver not following traffic patterns requiring heightened situational awareness
NIOSH investigators concluded that, to help prevent similar occurrences:
- Emergency responders should position patrol units and other emergency vehicles as they arrive on-scene to maximize the protected work zone for the emergency responders.
- Law enforcement agencies should ensure their standard operating procedure (SOP) provides step-by-step guidance on how to properly establish a temporary traffic control plan, including advance warning and transition areas for highway/roadway emergency incidents.
- Law enforcement officers and other emergency responders should maintain situational awareness within the established temporary traffic control zone to ensure they minimize their exposure to oncoming traffic.
- State, county, and municipal agencies responding to roadway incidents are encouraged to use and practice the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Incident Command System (ICS) to guide the shift change process during emergency events.
- State, county, and municipal authorities should consider promoting public awareness campaigns to inform motorists of the risks that law enforcement officers face while operating along the roadside and of the need to follow “Move Over” laws.
- State, county, and municipal authorities should consider promoting public awareness campaigns to educate motorists of the limitations that substances and/or medications may impose on safe operation of motor vehicles and the dangers that impaired driving imposes on motorists and others.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an institute within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is the federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. Through an interagency agreement, the National Institute of Justice funded a NIOSH pilot program to investigate line-of-duty deaths of law enforcement officers resulting from vehicle crashes and being struck by vehicles while responding to roadside emergencies and making traffic stops. These NIOSH investigations are intended to reduce or prevent occupational deaths and are completely separate from the rulemaking, enforcement and inspection activities of any other federal or state agency. NIOSH does not enforce compliance with State or Federal occupational safety and health standards and does not determine fault or assign blame. Participation of law enforcement agencies and individuals in NIOSH investigations is voluntary. Under its program, NIOSH investigators interview persons with knowledge of the incident who agree to be interviewed and review available records to develop a description of the conditions and circumstances leading to the death(s). Interviewees are not asked to sign sworn statements and interviews are not recorded. The agency’s reports do not name the deceased officer, the law enforcement agency or those interviewed. The NIOSH report’s summary of the conditions and circumstances surrounding the fatality is intended to provide context to the agency’s recommendations and is not intended to be definitive for purposes of determining any claim or benefit. The NIOSH report is not intended as a legal statement of facts. This summary, as well as the conclusions and recommendations made by NIOSH, should not be used for the purpose of litigation or the adjudication of any claim.