WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Winston-Salem police officers have been involved in 18 accidents while on duty so far in 2015. For the last few months, city officials have been working on a way to cut down on the wrecks — but they want to stress — this is not a police department issue; it’s a city-wide one.
When it comes to police, they have an added number of distractions while behind the wheel.
“They have a radio, they have a cellphone for business — for police work — they have a computer right here for police work, and they have to drive a car and they have to watch for bad guys,” said Tony Baker, risk manager and assistant city attorney for the City of Winston-Salem. “They’ve got a lot going on inside their workspace, and that’s not an excuse for accidents, but it’s a different type of driving.”
The police department has over 300 vehicles — and they make up a good chunk of the several million miles of driving city employees do as a whole each year. On average, Baker says Winston-Salem police officers are involved in 45 accidents a year.
“We classify an accident as any contact with anything,” Baker said. “Sanitation truck backs into a light post — that goes down as an accident.”
Currently, many city departments have their own system for disciplining employees who get in accidents. Baker says the city’s plan is to implement a city-wide uniform system for all departments.
“Really it’s protecting our employees and protecting citizens,” Baker said. “The personal injuries are what you want to avoid primarily.”
The city is looking to increase penalties for accidents. If there is a minor accident — say an employee with no prior history runs a stop sign and gets in a wreck — they could face a written citation.
“Which again affects your raise as well, it’s going to affect your income for the rest of your career with the city,” Baker said. “You have a reckless driving accident, then you’re looking at your job is going to be on the line.”
The way it stands now, city employees get awarded $25 for every three years of safe driving, Baker said. However, they are also looking to increase the reward, meaning if an employee may only have to go six months to a year to see the extra cash.
“Hopefully that entices employees to pay more attention when they’re driving a vehicle,” Baker said.
Baker says the city currently has about 1,000 vehicles which are driven by their employees.