Search for a fallen Law Enforcement Hero.
I first want to thank all of the law enforcement agencies participating in this year's Smooth Operator Campaign and especially the thousands of individual officers - dedicated men and women who will be working tirelessly this summer to make our roadways safer. As a resident and a motorist of this region, I want you to know that your work is deeply appreciated. You are making a difference - a very big difference - in the lives of everyone who resides and travels in our region.
But as successful as law enforcement has been in making our roadways safer for motorists, their efforts have not come without a cost - a heavy and unintended cost that is all too often overlooked or taken for granted. That cost involves the threat to the very safety of our police officers themselves.
Last year, a total of 83 law enforcement officers across the country were killed in traffic-related incidents. That was a record high number in the history of U.S. law enforcement. And 2007 marked the 10th year in a row in which more law enforcement officers died in the line of duty in traffic incidents than were killed by gunfire or any other single cause of death.
Some of these officers died in automobile crashes as they were responding to emergency calls for help, pursuing a fleeing suspect or initiating a traffic stop. Others were killed by drunk drivers, speeders or red-light runners. And still others were outside their vehicles - assisting a motorist or writing a ticket by the side of the road - when they were struck and killed by another driver.
One of those fallen heroes was Corporal Scott Wheeler of the Howard County (MD) Police Department. He was struck and killed almost exactly one year ago today while conducting a speed enforcement operation on Route 32. Corporal Wheeler was one of four area law enforcement officers who died in traffic-related incidents last year.
And for every officer who makes the ultimate sacrifice, several more are injured - many of them seriously - on our roadways. In every instance, these heroic officers were doing what they have dedicated their careers to: serving and protecting the community, including the other motorists that our officers share the road with every day.
So this summer, as police are out in full force cracking down on aggressive drivers, it is so important for the rest of us - the law-abiding motorists - to do everything we can to help our officers do their jobs and do them safely.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund launched the "Drive Safely" campaign with one goal in mind: to reduce the number of law enforcement officers who are injured or killed on our roadways. Through our Drive Safely website we offer a number of resources, including simple, common-sense steps that motorists can take to help protect our police officers.
Steps like focusing on driving - not on eating, talking on the cell phone, text messaging or other distractions.
Steps like being aware of emergency vehicles traveling on our roads - giving them plenty of room to pass and not following too closely once they have.
Steps like never driving on the shoulder of a roadway. Police and other emergency vehicles rely on the shoulder. It is incredibly thoughtless and dangerous to get in their way.
And, of course, steps like "slowing down and moving over" when you see a police vehicle stopped by the side of the road.
Just yesterday, a Virginia State trooper was injured when his police cruiser, stopped on the shoulder of I-81, was struck by a tractor trailer - the fourth similar incident involving Virginia State troopers in just the last six weeks. And for every potentially life-threatening crash that occurs, there are plenty of near misses every day of the year - in Virginia and throughout the region.
Virginia is one of 43 states nationally that have so-called "move over" laws that require motorists to slow down when they see an emergency vehicle by the side of the road and to "move over" at least one lane if they can do so safely. But even if "slowing down and moving over" is not the law in your jurisdiction, it is always the right thing to do, to help protect our police officers.
You know, it is ironic - and certainly tragic - that the very people who go out each and every day to make sure the roads are safe for the rest of us, put themselves at risk in the process, often by motorists who are not necessarily the aggressive drivers, but who are just not paying attention to the officers around them.
So our message to the motoring public is clear - this summer during Smooth Operator and throughout the year: drive safely … slow down and move over … and protect your peace officers because they protect you. Thank you very much.