Virginia Tech studying ways to keep police officers safe on road

Nearly one-third of police officer deaths in last decade are traffic-related

By Jessica Jewell - Weekend Anchor / Reporter

BLACKSBURG, Va. - Researchers at Virginia Tech are partnering with local law enforcement agencies to make patrol cars more visible.

"I’ve had people come within feet of me," Virginia State Police trooper Rodney Kenley said.

Close calls on the roadways happen far too often. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, nearly one-third of all police officer deaths in the last decade were traffic-related. Virginia drivers are required to move over for emergency vehicles, but oftentimes they don't.

"You get your britches, your leg whisked out from under you where they're so close to you, it does get scary,” Kenley said.

Virginia Tech researchers are trying to stop this by catching driver's attention.

"Keep us safer on the interstate and keep us from getting hit," Kenley said.

They've teamed up with Virginia State Police and nine local agencies to make their cars more visible. They're experimenting with different reflective graphics to wrap around cars and adding red lights instead of just blue lights.

"The balance between making their car visible and making them visible and yet not blinding drivers," said Ron Gibbons, director for the Center for Infrastructure-based Safety Systems at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Researchers hope these small changes will make a big difference.

"Really, our goal is to save trooper lives and make their job a little easier," Gibbons said.

There's still a long way to go in the study, which is 18 months long, but it could influence the way police cars all across the country are designed in the future.

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