Skip to Main Content

Edenton eliminates preventable accidents with training 

In 2012 Edenton Manager Anne-Marie Knighton and Police Chief Jay Fortenberry noticed a drastic increase in the number of preventable police vehicle accidents. Edenton, which has a population of roughly 5,000, saw the number of accidents rise to nine from an average of zero to three among the small force of 17 officers.

“Nine was alarming,” Knighton said. “We had to step back and say ‘We’re not tackling this problem properly. We have to do something before somebody gets hurt.’”

With driver reform on her mind, she attended the League’s 2012 Annual Conference in Charlotte, where Hillsborough Town Manager Eric Peterson led a session about police liability and driver safety. She said when she came back to Edenton, she knew they were on the right track for training reform.

Smith System's Five Keys

Aim High in Steering

Look 15 seconds into your future. Don't just look the vehicle in front of you.

Get the Big Picture

Look for hazards including other motorists, pedestrians and vehicle doors opening.

Keep Your Eyes Moving

Don't stare and use peripheral vision.

Leave Yourself an Out

Monitor the space cushion around you.

Make Sure They See You

Use your signals and make eye contact.

Shortly after conference Paul Miller, risk management field consultant from the League, went to Edenton to hold two defensive driver trainings for all Edenton employees. He also recommended implementing the Smith System driver training, which is anchored by five keys related to being a more attentive driver. The town sent two employees to a week-long training in Charlotte to become certified instructors with a goal of every town employee completing the Smith training.

In addition, Edenton employees participated in Slower is Faster, a video produced by the League and Peterson to help police departments reduce their number of claims. The video is now part of several trainings done by the League and other organizations including the North Carolina Justice Academy, Association of Law Enforcement Emergency Response Trainers and the Georgia Municipal Association.

Because of Edenton’s comprehensive approach to training, it was able to reduce the number of preventable accidents to one in 2013 and none in the first half of fiscal year 2014.

“I’m really proud of Chief for the great way he’s embraced this issue,” Knighton said. “He’s really tried to change the culture in this department that safe driving is one of the most important skills an officer needs to have.”

According to an extensive study done by the League’s Field Services department last year, the second-most dangerous task for law enforcement officers is operating a motor vehicle, and majority of those accidents are preventable by reducing distractions.

“Police departments provide some level of driver training after Basic Law Enforcement Training, but most is centered around emergency response driving,” League Director of Field Services Bryan Leaird said. “While it is certainly a critical topic to cover, it does not always address the deficiencies that are causing the majority of the accidents.”

Edenton is focused on emphasizing the importance of employees knowing their responsibility when driving. The town implemented a policy that bans the use of mobile data terminals and cell phones when in motion and is taking driver history checks more seriously for violations on and off the clock.

“As Chief reminds me, a police officer’s car is his office. They have so many more distractions now,” Knighton said. “A lot of which are technology driven – there’s lights, radios, cell phones, and mobile terminals. Their job is harder now than it’s ever been.”

Fortenberry also placed a copy of the Smith System’s Five Keys in every police vehicle as a reminder to stay focused.

“We’ve realized driver training in police work has really been lacking. That’s one of the things we do every day,” Fortenberry said. “We need to focus on training and emphasizing safety. There’s so many officers killed every year in their vehicles – just driving.”

Last year Risk Management Services held an intensive, two-day driving seminar in Charlotte. The League will conduct its second police driver training class later this spring and has a goal to conduct one class a year in various parts of the state to offer training to all departments that participate in the Risk Management Services program.

“This is a perfect example of the success a member can experience when they address a loss exposure,” Leaird said. “Fewer accidents means more police cars available for patrol, few officers injured, fewer complaints from citizens, and a financial savings for the town.”