Officer Struck By a Motorhome While Establishing Temporary Traffic Control on Interstate—Tennessee
On May 10, 2014, a 25-year-old police officer was fatally injured when he was struck by a motorhome and drug under the trailer it was pulling on a four-lane interstate highway. The officer had responded to a jackknifed and overturned pickup/trailer combination that was blocking an entrance ramp to the interstate northbound lanes. To assist with traffic control, the officer positioned his patrol unit south of the entrance ramp in lane three, and a Tennessee Department of Transportation help truck operator positioned his vehicle next to the patrol unit to block the shoulder and lane four. The officer and help truck operator were standing between their vehicles, near the help truck’s driver’s side door, when a motorhome pulling a trailer approached the scene in lane three (lane second from the right). The driver of the motorhome reported the speed and volume of traffic in lanes one and two prevented him from moving to the left; as a result, he attempted to drive between the police car and the help truck. The help truck operator saw the oncoming motorhome, yelled to the officer, and ran out of the way; the officer was unable to do so. The motorhome and trailer sideswiped the help truck and struck the officer. The officer was dragged underneath the trailer for 116 feet before the motor home came to a stop. He died at the scene.
Key contributing factors identified in this investigation include:
- Motorhome driver did not slow down and merge left.
- Positioning of patrol unit.
- Law enforcement officer standing in partially open lane.
- Law enforcement officer looking away from oncoming traffic; discussing traffic control with help truck operator.
- Delay in updating dynamic message sign.
NIOSH investigators concluded that, to help prevent similar occurrences:
- 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.
- Law enforcement officers and other emergency responders should identify and move to a safe area within an established temporary traffic control zone that minimizes their exposure to oncoming vehicle traffic and should maintain situational awareness.
- Law enforcement agencies should consider developing a standard operating procedure (SOP) that includes guidance on how to properly establish a temporary traffic control plan, including advance warning and transition areas for highway/roadway emergency incidents.
- Emergency responders should consider positioning patrol units and other emergency vehicles as they arrive on-scene to maximize the protected work zone for the emergency responders.
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.