Passenger Side Vehicle Approaches

Ed.’s Note:  On page 193 of the Complete Guide to Public Safety Cycling, 2nd Edition, bike officers are advised to use a passenger side vehicle approach when possible.  An IPMBA Instructor submitted this guidance from his department’s training unit, which is provided to all officers, not just bike officers.  As a result, it is more specific to patrol vehicles than bike officers, but still relevant.  The agency is not identified at their request. 

The Police Department recognizes that due to hazards inherently present while conducting Motor Vehicle Stops on the side of roadways, there are times when a passenger side vehicle approach (PSVA) is preferable to the standard driver’s side approach.  This outline does not create a policy or standard procedure but merely provides information on an alternative tactic designed to help minimize risk to the officer conducting the stop.

Justification for Multiple Tactics to Minimize Risk on Vehicle Stops
In 2012, US law enforcement suffered a total loss of 125 officers.  52 of these deaths were vehicle related.  Of these deaths, 22 were from automobile accidents, five from motorcycle accidents, six were struck by vehicles, five from vehicle pursuits, three from an aircraft accident, and 11 from vehicular assaults.  For comparison, gunfire resulted in 48 deaths.

In 2013, US law enforcement suffered a total loss of 105 officers.  47 of these deaths were vehicle related.  Of these deaths, 25 were from automobile accidents, four from motorcycle accidents, eight were struck by vehicles, four from vehicle pursuits, one from an aircraft accident, and five from vehicular assaults.  For comparison, gunfire resulted in 30 deaths.

In 2014, through May 11, US law enforcement suffered a total loss of 41 officers.  73 of these deaths were vehicle related. Of these deaths, ten were from automobile accidents, two from motorcycle accidents, two were struck by vehicles, two from vehicle pursuits and four from vehicular assaults.  For comparison, gunfire resulted in 15 deaths.

Source:  Officer Down Memorial Page (http://www.odmp.org)

Note:  For all stops, the severity of the offense should be weighed against the risk posed to the officer.  An expired tag may not be worth being exposed to a motor vehicle traveling within feet of you at 55+mph.

Techniques for Completing a Passenger Side Approach

  1. If possible, choose a location in advance that reduces risk.  Think about potential hazard areas, including blind hills and corners, heavy traffic flow, congestion zones, natural choke points, acceleration and deceleration zones.
  2. Move the traffic stop to a more desirable location through the use of the PA system.
  3. Position the patrol vehicle with appropriate spacing to the offender’s vehicle, offset and cant wheels as you would for a driver’s side approach, creating a safety zone.
  4. Take the time to assess traffic prior to and while exiting your vehicle.  Wait for a break in the flow of traffic.
  5. Exit patrol vehicle to the rear.  Expeditiously make it around to the passenger side doors while maintaining visibility on stopped vehicle.
  6. Assess emergency escape route (retreat to vehicle or exit to side of the road and beyond).
  7. Re-assess traffic and approach stopped vehicle utilizing natural cover (e.g., jersey barriers, guard rail).
  8. Utilize lighting and vehicle mirrors to assist in visually clearing vehicle upon approach and contact.
  9. Minimize time spent outside of the patrol car.  The safest place on a traffic stop is inside your vehicle.
  10. Don’t be hesitant to end the traffic stop due to newly identified hazards prior to its completion.
  11. If necessary, block an entire lane of traffic.  Don’t allow drives the opportunity to squeeze by you.
  12. Do not conduct DUI roadside maneuvers in hazardous areas.  

Safety Concerns of a Passenger Side Approach

  1. Loss of visibility on the stopped car while transitioning behind the patrol car/SUV.
  2. Negatives of crossing between vehicles.
  3. Loss of safety zone officers should be creating on the driver’s side through proper patrol vehicle positioning.
  4. Subsequent loss of cover from gunfire due to vehicle positioning and approaching on the passenger side (increased opportunity for occupants to shoot accurately from within the vehicle).
  5. If a passenger is present in the front seat, the officer is forced to deal with two people at the same time (passing documents, control of hands, relaying verbal information).
  6. If the occupant is a solo driver, the officer could be required to lean into the vehicle to exchange documents, etc., potentially exposing them to physical attack or injury if the driver accelerates.

Officers should not gain a false sense of security when conducting passenger side vehicle approaches.  Despite the apparent benefits of distancing the officers from traffic flow and placing the stopped car between the officer and an impact vehicle, department instructors are not aware of any current research that shows a decrease in incidents or severity of injuries through the use of a the passenger side vehicle approach.

The only proven methods of reducing the risks associated with a vehicle striking an officer are to incorporate large physical barricades (bridge supports, jersey barriers, etc.) and or reduce the speed at which the impact would take place. 

Weighing the risks of conducting any traffic stop versus the hazards presents is still the best option. 

As always, maintain situational awareness!

Another article about the passenger side vehicle approach can be found at http://www.lawofficer.com/article/patrol/passenger-side-approach.

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  • Marvin

    I work for a Casino as a Public Safety Officer and I’m trying to get more information on Vehicle approach but from the Driver side. If there is link to Videos or Policy and procedures about vehicle approaches that would delightful. I’m trying to have a Vehicle Approach system . So, if any Info is passed down to me will be greatly appreciated and will,be added on to my policy and procedure manual.

    05:15pm, 12/08/2014
  • Maureen

    For more information regarding traffic stop policy, please visit http://ipmba.org/images/uploads/2014-IPMBA-IACP-Bike-Patrol-Policy.pdf

    More information can also be found on page 193 of the Complete Guide to Public Safety Cycling, which is available from Jones & Bartlett Learning (http://www.jblearning.com/catalog/0763744336/).

    10:58am, 12/19/2014

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