Code 3 Vs. Pursuit Driving
Is There A Difference?
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure most of us became cops so we could drive fast legally. Who can deny the attraction of having droves of people get out of your way while burying the gas pedal into the floor in conjunction with the bright lights a-flashin’ and siren a-squealin’? Go ahead, admit it.
Of course, popular culture and Hollywood have impacted what most people think about how we drive. Remember the opening scene to Lethal Weapon 2 with Riggs pounding the roof during a chase and screaming, “I love this shit!” As much as we may have that feeling deep down, we also know to give into it is to sacrifice awareness and lose focus, possibly at great cost.
I’m not here to preach to the choir about how you should drive your particular mode of police transport. I will remind you of the difference, simple as it may be, between Code 3 driving (lights and sirens) — and pursuit driving. If you’re unaware of your particular departmental policy regarding either of these concepts, you should make yourself intimately aware of them — now. Every department has “those” rules, and for good reason.
Code 3 driving is simply having your vehicle’s lights and sirens activated. That’s it. It doesn’t involve putting the pedal to the metal or having conspicuously placed ramps to jump over the school bus full of blind nuns, all done with your hair on fire.
“Rolling Code,” as it’s often called, can actually be at a snail’s pace. The purpose behind our lights and siren is to let people know we have somewhere urgently important to be. Even more often than that, we use our lights and siren simply to affect a traffic stop. All too often we get caught-up in the idea once the lights go on, all bets are off. I assure you this is not the case.
Your body’s fight or flight mechanism is triggered upon activation of your lights and siren, unless you’re really a cold fish. At the least, this means an adrenaline dump will course through your veins, your pupils will dilate, your throat will tighten and your thought processes will begin to slow. With the slowing of thought processes and onset of tunnel vision, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. The faster you’re driving under these conditions, the higher your odds are of getting hurt, possibly fatally. And an injured or dead officer is no good to those in need.
Just because you’re rolling code doesn’t mean you get a free pass at intersections like this. Keep your brain in gear.
It’s in the pursuit where we’re allowed to legally violate some portions of the vehicle code. However, there’s usually a caveat to this requiring you to operate your emergency vehicle with due regard for the safety of all persons and property. Most agencies have pursuit policies in place and some common guidelines include specific criteria allowing for a pursuit.
You may be required to advise the initial reason for the pursuit. Felony evading is never an initial reason, it only becomes felony evading after the pursuit has commenced. If the pursuit stems from an infraction, don’t be surprised if a sergeant or other command staff orders you to drop it. Before you groan or pound the dash, take a deep breath. The risk of serious injuries, death or substantial property damage can’t justify the merits of a pursuit for an infraction. You’ll probably have to frequently update the status of the pursuit too, i.e. traffic conditions, speeds, weather and number of occupants in the wanted vehicle. Don’t be surprised if you get called off if it gets crazy. Better yet, you should call it off yourself in that case.
Policy may restrict the number of vehicles allowed in the pursuit to avoid the “parade of lights” on the news, and prevent cops from trying to ace each other out of the role of primary position. There may also be restrictions placed on how fast you’re allowed to drive, the distance you must stay behind Johnny Outlaw, and whether you can pursue on the wrong side of the road.
If you’re rolling code — or even in a pursuit — and come to a street like this, what are your options? Slow down, scan, be intensely aware of everything around you and leave the mic alone to concentrate on your driving if you can.
DON’T BE AN IDIOT
Depending on the size of your jurisdiction or your beat, you may drive Code 3 for a shorter distance and/or a shorter period of time than someone in the country might. You may also drive Code 3 multiple times in a day. Pursuits, as dramatic as they are on TV, tend not to happen as often. But you know that.
Whether you’re driving Code 3 or in a pursuit, there are some key points to remember. First off, get off the damn cell phone and buckle up. And you should be buckled in all the time, regardless.
Periodically glance side-to-side, not just at intersections, but as you’re driving along, since it will help break the tendency for tunnel vision. If you aren’t paying attention to what’s on your left or right, you’re increasing your odds of a collision.
Take an extra 3 seconds and take a deep breath. Forcefully blow it out. It will help loosen up your vocal chords so you don’t sound like an over-excited trainee on the air. Speaking of radios, don’t drive with your mic in your hand. As a matter of fact, if you’re the primary in a pursuit, the second car should call it anyway, so you can concentrate on not crashing. The more implements you’ve got in your hand, the harder it is to control the 3,500-pound death machine you’re driving.
Regardless of whether you’re in pursuit or merely driving with your lights and siren activated, the onus is on you. Take care, proceed with due caution and get to where you’re going in one piece. There’s a reason old cops don’t get into crashes very often. They likely learned the hard way.
By Jason Hoschouer
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