Right Vs. Left

The following article is by California Highway Patrol Sgt. (Ret.) Mike Allen. Mike runs a great website that we encourage you to visit and he is an example of just how influential one person can be. His article beings up some great points and as EVOC Instructors, it is our responsibility that our officers are given information on issues such as these involving the roadway.

I am from a law enforcement agency (California Highway Patrol) that advocates right/passenger side or off traffic approaches to vehicles during traffic stops. In my career, this approach, if you will, is the safest for an officer in a lot of different situations. For instance, many citizens do not expect, and are waiting for the officer to come up to their driver’s door. This is one aspect of the passenger side approach as it will, more often than not, catch the driver by surprise. This can also allow you to see what might be lying in the passenger seat or in the driver’s right hand before they know you are there.

Another safety aspect of the right/passenger side approach is that you are away from the traffic lanes. How many videos has everyone seen of an officer making a left side or traffic side approach and getting hit or just taken out by a passing motorist? The scenes of those collisions are horrific. Those videos should stand alone in making you aware of the hazards of the job in general, but more specifically, the hazards of working that close to moving traffic. Even the side mirror of a big rig passing by could essentially tear your head right off, much less getting your legs struck by a passing car.

The last safety aspect of right/passenger side or off traffic approaches is that you usually have escape routes available. The alternative on the left side = running into traffic?? “Really?? Is that wise??” The off traffic approach provides various avenues that you can take to avoid being struck by another vehicle, or if the occupant(s) of that violator’s vehicle starts shooting. Hopefully you’re not turning your back and running, but firing back as you are backing away towards cover.

When conducting business while on the shoulder all your business should be to the right of your patrol vehicle as well. Set your gear up to easily access it from the right side. When you need to grab equipment from your trunk make sure you do it quickly but check traffic before opening the trunk lid and continually check it periodically while there. I’ve seen many an officer who got crunched while at the rear of a patrol car. One specifically was when Toyota had the slogan, “Oh what a feeling.” Fortunately that officer eventually came back to work and is still going strong today.

Another very important factor when making a traffic stop is to never make a stop, if you can avoid it, alongside a guardrail, wall, steep embankments, etc. This gives you zero room to maneuver if you need to hightail it out of there for any reason.

Some of these incidents will happen and there’s just no way to avoid them. We can only lessen the severity of these events by being ready and prepared for them when they actually do occur.

For you folks in other parts of the world where you drive, where we consider the “wrong” side or the left side of the road, just reverse what I’ve said. To easily remember this for everyone, simply approach on the off traffic side of your violator’s vehicle. Just another way to safely make it home at the end of your shift.

will add that when you are in a parking lot or other area that doesn’t have speeding traffic whizzing by you, go ahead and make that driver’s side approach…but still maintain observation of your surroundings.

I know there are some agencies/departments out there that advocate driver’s side approaches on traffic stops, train their officers in that approach, and don’t want to see anything but…a driver’s side approach. Let me tell you, I feel that this goes right along with the tenets of the Below 100 Initiative where we need to make a cultural change in the way we do business to keep ourselves safe. The best thing about it is – none of it is difficult. Common sense needs to be more common today. Maintaining that “On-Duty Mindset” is one way we’ll stay safe and make it home.

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