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Characteristics of officer-involved vehicle collisions in California

Scott E. Wolfe (Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA)
Jeff Rojek (Department of Criminal Justice, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX, USA)
Geoff Alpert (Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC, USA)
Hope M. Tiesman (Division of Safety Research – National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morgantown, WV, USA)
Stephen M. James (Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology, Washington State University – Spokane, Spokane, WA, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 17 August 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine the situational and individual officer characteristics of officer-involved vehicle collisions that result in fatality, injury, and non-injury outcomes.


Data on 35,840 vehicle collisions involving law enforcement officers in California occurring between January 2000 and December 2009 are examined. A descriptive analysis of collision characteristics is presented.


There were 39 officers killed by collisions over this study period and 7,684 officers who received some type injury. Incidents involving officers on motorcycles represented 39 percent of officer fatalities and 39 percent of severe injuries. In the case of fatalities, 33 percent of officers were reported as wearing seatbelts, 38 percent were not wearing a seatbelt, and seatbelt use was not stated in 29 percent of car fatalities.

Research limitations/implications

The findings only represent one state and the analysis is based on an estimated 86 percent of collisions that occurred during the study period due to missing data. Nonetheless, the results are based on a robust sample and address key limitations in the existing literature.

Practical implications

During the study period in California the estimated financial impact of collisions reached into the hundreds of millions of dollars when considering related fatality, injury, and vehicle damage costs combined. These impacts highlight the need for the law enforcement community to give greater attention to this issue.


At the time of this writing there was no published independent research that compares the situational and officer characteristics across fatality, injury, and non-injury outcomes in these events. The findings reported here will help inform emerging interest in this issue within the law enforcement, academic, and policy-making communities.



Wolfe, S.E., Rojek, J., Alpert, G., Tiesman, H.M. and James, S.M. (2015), "Characteristics of officer-involved vehicle collisions in California", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 38 No. 3, pp. 458-477.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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