Police Roadside Safety: Visibility Is Critical

To be seen or not to be seen: for law enforcement officers, that is the question. Officers' lives depend on their ability to be covert sometimes and visible other times, depending on their task. Keeping themselves and their vehicles visible when stopped on the side of the road is an essential safety consideration for law enforcement officers.

A vehicle's size and color, the weather and the time of day affect whether drivers can easily see emergency vehicles and responders. Emergency vehicles have features that draw attention to them even when drivers are not specifically looking for them. Typical features include warning lights, sirens and horns, and retro-reflective striping (striping that reflects light back to its source).

Firefighters, in contrast to law enforcement, always need to be visible on the job. They follow a national “Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus” issued by the National Fire Protection Association. Though observance of the standard is voluntary, most manufacturers of firefighter vehicles comply in order to limit liability and ensure their products will sell.[1]

Unlike firefighters, law enforcement officers do not have national visibility standards. Many law enforcement agencies voluntarily apply retro-reflective markings to patrol cars, motorcycles and other vehicles. [2] Some agencies position these markings so that vehicles might remain unseen at times, depending on the vehicle's angle. NIJ funds research, including an evaluation of current initiatives by local and state agencies, to help refine and develop visibility tools for law enforcement.

Works Cited

[1], [2] United States Fire Administration, "Emergency Vehicle Visibility and Conspicuity Study" (pdf, 45 pages), August 2009.

Date Created: June 28, 2010