Podcast: Thumbs Up To The Passenger-side Approach

Recently, I made a lengthy motoring journey to visit my elderly aunt for her 95th birthday anniversary. It encompassed about seven and a half hours on the road from St. Louis to Wichita. Now, long drives are second on my bucket list of all-time, most fun activities only to getting my teeth ground down. All by my lonesome, too, which made the trip even more fun-filled. To pass the time, I listened to old radio classics on my satellite radio, and, I kept an eye out for law enforcement. Not to avoid them, but rather to see what I could glean in the few seconds I could eyeball officers while barreling down the highway.

Other than a Missouri trooper directing traffic after a horrid accident on I-70, I didn’t see a single cop until I crossed the state line into Kansas. THAT was very much another story. In relatively quick succession. I encountered four officers, either state troopers or local deputies, who had stopped vehicles in the beautiful Flint Hills of Eastern Kansas for various infractions. It really gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling, too, to see that in every instance the officers had made a passenger side approach. In one case, a young officer almost ran from his cruiser to the passenger side while he also touched the driver’s trunk for identification purposes. I could only presume he was so speedy because he didn’t want the driver to notice he was making a passenger-side approach. Don’t know, for sure. In any case, it gratified me to see that every cop along the way had adopted an approach that I have long, long advocated for many reasons for officer’s safety.

Years ago, we did an excellent training video featuring a veteran Utah trooper whose life had been saved from a gruesome death because he made the passenger-side approach. In the video, he is seen on the passenger-side moments before a big rig literally shredded the vehicles driver’s side. Had he been on the driver’s side, the EMT would have only been able to retrieve his jellied remains.

Trooper Larry Orton said it best then in our interview from Volume 10 Program 3:

“I go home every night from right-side approaches. And if I hadn’t been on the right side this particular day, I would not have been sitting here doing this interview today. There’s no doubt in my mind.”

It remains incomprehensible to me how so many officers still put their butts on the line(literally) with the driver’s-side approach. Is it machismo? Tradition? Do they relish playing tag with an 80,000 pound oncoming bomb hurtling at them at 75 or 80 miles an hour? In a time when officers have become targets for so many braying jackasses who would just love to zero in on a cops backside and tear away, perhaps, never to be seen again. Why hasn’t the driver’s-side approach gone much more quickly into extinction ala the Dodo bird or the Brontosaurus? It’s safer, almost always gives officers the element of surprise, it provides a bird’s-eye view of the goings-on that are going on INSIDE the vehicle. What’s more, if you’re right-handed, as are most cops, think about the far better perspective you’ve got if it’s necessary to draw your sidearm. Oh, and check out YouTube for officers who’ve been hit or killed by vehicles while making traffic stops. After you’ve done that, get back to me and let me know if you saw ONE, just ONE who’d been seriously injured or killed while making a passenger-side approach.

Now, of course, passenger-side approaches can be impossible under certain conditions related to weather, terrain or space. In those cases, though, there’s a fair percentage that could evolve into passenger-side approaches with a little direction and guidance from…guess who? YOU! You are in charge here. Am I right? Certainly not the motorist you’ve stopped…not Starsky or Hutch. Finally, if you ever traveled through the Flint Hills of Kansas, you’ll absolutely love the scenery. And if you see a cop who’s made a roadside traffic stop, you’ll quickly note that I am not talking through my a$$!

I’m Ron Barber. Thanks for listening. And that’s Stuff You Never Ever Learned at the Academy!

One Comment

    Stephen Gates

    Mr. Barber you want us to name one Officer who was killed or injured during a passenger side approach. I don’t know if this incident happened before you put out this instruction. there was an Officer in a western state who had stopped a pickup as the driver got out and was moving toward the rear picked up a weapon out of the vehicle unseen by the officer. As the officer moved to the rear from the passenger side and got to the bed area of the truck, the driver raised the gun shooting and killing the officer. I know you can’t account for everything but this might be some good information to provided officers when doing a passenger side approach on a pick up or other type large or towed vehicles.

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