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Are deputies good drivers?

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

McHenry County, Illinois

Are deputies good drivers?

Gus Philpott
Woodstock Advocate
February 14, 2009

Deputies may drive more miles than the average driver, and they drive some of them faster than the average driver (lawfully). But does putting on a uniform and a badge and getting behind the wheel of a squad car make him (or her) a better, safer driver? Many deputies are good, even excellent, drivers.

It would be interesting to see a grid of all the traffic crashes involving deputies for the past ten years. The grid could include the following:

Number of at-fault crashes (and details)
Contributing reason(s) for each crash
Whether or not deputy was ticketed
Not-at-fault crashes
Whether the other driver was ticketed
Single-vehicle crashes
Multiple-vehicle crashes
Age of driver
Gender of driver
Years of employment with the Department
Prior accident history of driver
Whether driver was distracted (using police radio, cellphone, in-car computer, emergency lights, siren; personal cellphone, PDA)
Driving training history of driver
Type of driving training
Number of years since last driver training

An anonymous survey of deputies would also be interesting. How many would self-report traffic violations, tickets received off-duty (or getting stopped, but not getting ticketed after identifying self as a law-enforcement officer) and even frequent traffic violations when not stopped?

Reporting traffic tickets on such a grid will not provide an accurate number, because traffic investigators tend to favor deputy sheriffs, police officers and state troopers who are involved in at-fault accidents. These drivers often are not ticketed, even though clear violations occurred. I suspect that traffic investigators will be quick to deny that they are biased in favor of law enforcement drivers. The absence of tickets in at-fault accidents indicates otherwise to me.

If you think examples are necessary to support a statement like that, I can provide them with dates and names. For the time-being, I'm willing to leave it as happening often - too often.

Spectacular accidents, such as the one this past week when a deputy rolled a squad car on Charles Road, make the news. Many deputy-involved accidents don't make the news, because details are never released by Departments. At other times they make the news and there is no follow-up by a reporter. How often do you read, "The crash involving Deputy (name) was investigated and, although he caused the crash, no ticket was issued"? Now I'm not talking about last week's accident - yet.

What kind of defensive driving course should a deputy be required to take if he totals a squad car? Or two. Maybe there is such a required course. Is there?

How many deputies at the McHenry County Sheriff's Department have been involved in numerous crashes, costing McHenry County tens of thousands of dollars in vehicle losses (damage or total loss) over the years?

I reported on one in Crystal Lake a while back that never made the news (a deputy rear-ended a car and was not ticketed). Word reached me after that one that the deputy involved had wrecked more than five County vehicles. In another example, a State trooper wrecked a State Police motorcycle last year, when he hit the back of a vehicle - no ticket.

Last summer a deputy started a U-turn from a stopped position on the shoulder of a highway and broadsided a car that was passing. Was he ticketed? No. As a matter of fact, initial crash reports attributed the cause of the crash to the driver passing by, until other deputies screamed bloody murder. You'd better believe that, had the driver passing by been at fault, she would have been ticketed - on the spot. And this driver has still not received payment for her $5,500 vehicle damage!

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