Did Mishandling Cause the Death and Injuries of HPD Officers?
by Panos Prevedouros, PhD
Perhaps the very unfortunate and deadly crash on Farrington Highway on the night of Tuesday, September 13, 2011 will serve as a major wake up call for HPD accident scene handling and investigation. While I was neither there nor a participant of the investigation, news accounts point to major issues:
- Why was a traffic stop done in the middle of a curve of a high speed highway right after the end of a freeway? This is particularly egregious at night. A much safer off-ramp was nearby as indicated in news reports.
- Why was the stop done on the left side median instead of the right side which is the normal expectation of drivers?
- Why did the officers observe that there were “two adults and a child” in the suspected vehicle and continue a high risk traffic stop in the middle of a busy, high speed highway at night? As it turns out the suspect vehicle with three occupants was hit and was substantially damaged. Reports claim that the occupants were unharmed.
The motorist who caused the crash probably saw the blue lights but because of the road curvature perhaps not soon enough. (According to KITV “Honolulu police confirmed alcohol was not involved in the tragedy.”) Instinctively he veered to the left to avoid the typical police stop on the right. But there was no time left to realize his mistake that the police were on the left side. He crashed on to them. This is all speculation but evidence from news reports suggest that mismanagement may have contributed to the fatal outcome of an otherwise minor police stop. Here is the KHON description of this accident.
“It started as a routine traffic stop along Farrington Highway near Ko’Olina around 10:40 p.m. Tuesday. A car pulled over for an expired registration near the center median, with five officers responding.”
Five officers for an expired license traffic stop? Is it unreasonable to consider that if all these unnecessary police cars did not block the way, the affected officers may have had a better perception of the approaching vehicle and get out of harm’s way? (Three of the five officers did get out of harm’s way.)
There is a lot of evidence that HPD traffic scene investigations are not neat, organized, choreographed, efficient, safe, or professional. They are mostly chaotic and slow. Three examples of substandard HPD traffic stops in recent memory that I observed as a passer-by motorist.
Example 1: Traffic stop at Ala Wai Boulevard. One police car behind the motorist's SUV, a second police car behind the first police, blocking half of the next lane, and a third police car, the wrong way along Ala Wai Blvd. in front, but at a distance of the motorist’s car. No one was managing traffic. Three of the four vehicles in this scene were blocking the bike lane. All this mayhem disturbed traffic flow and had a strong potential to cause other crashes and injuries.
Example 2: Minor fender bender on Kapahulu Ave., makai-bound by Snorkel Bob’s. One police car behind the two involved cars, a second police car behind the first police, blocking half of the next lane which meant that Kapahulu Ave. was down to one-half lane! Motorists had to cross the double line to continue. Chaos and compounded accident risk from a minor fender bender.
Example 3: Just a couple days ago. Police officer stops a newer luxury car(*) on the one lane Iolani Street Kokohead bound creating incredible congestion and accident risk on the nearby School/Queen Emma intersection. Why couldn't he ask her to move to a quiet spot a couple blocks away in Makiki?
(*) I mention this because it did not look like the kind of car that would suffer a breakdown, and the driver did not appear to be concerned about her car. But I have to give the officer the benefit of the doubt since I only observed this for a few seconds as I was driving on the opposite direction.
For more examples see my recent blog posts:
August 1, 2010 -- Freeway Multi-car Collision. Three Apparent Lessons. -- http://fixoahu.blogspot.com/2010/08/freeway-multi-car-collision-three.html
July 26, 2011 -- Traffic Accident Investigation on Oahu: Stuck in the 1980s. -- http://fixoahu.blogspot.com/2011/07/traffic-accident-investigation-on-oahu.html
Examples of inefficiency and mismanagement of traffic scenes abound. HPD must end the revolving door of its Traffic Division which is typically staffed with less inexperienced and only partly trained-in-traffic officers. HPD should incentivize career Traffic Division police officers, and train them to professional standards. The department's reputation, the officers' lives and the community's well-being are at stake.
Panos D. Prevedouros, PhD
Professor of Transportation Engineering
Department of Civil Engineering
University of Hawaii at Manoa
TEL: (808)-956-9698, FAX: -5014
2nd Int'l Symposium on Freeway Operations: 2isfo.eng.hawaii.edu
Past President, Hawaii Highway Users Alliance (www.HHUA.org)
Subcommittee Chair, Freeway Operations, Transportation Research Board