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September 2011 

Sheriff receives national honors for traffic safety

Former Choctaw police chief, current resident serves Oklahoma County

By Tim Farley    

Traffic safety has long been a passion for Oklahoma County Sheriff and Choctaw resident John Whetsel.


As a result, the four-term sheriff was elated when he was presented with the J. Stannard Baker award for traffic safety at the National Sheriff's Association annual conference in June.


"This is an amazing honor," Whetsel said. "This award not only reflects my individual accomplishments for traffic safety in Oklahoma County, but it recognizes the team effort made by the men and women of the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office to make our streets safer."


The award is sponsored by the National Sheriffs Association, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Northwestern University Traffic Institute. The prestigious award annually recognizes an individual law enforcement officer and others who have made significant achievements in highway safety.


Whetsel is the first law enforcement officer in Oklahoma to receive the award.


He said he didn't know he was receiving the award until he walked into that particular session at the conference. The sheriff was nominated for the award by Maj. John Waldenville, the deputy who was ambushed and shot while working an off-duty security job at Cattlemen's Steakhouse.


"It was very gratifying that he was the one who submitted my name for the award. Because of that, it has a very personal meaning to me," Whetsel said. "However, it was disappointing that he couldn't be there when I received it."



Receiving the award was a professional achievement that Whetsel will always cherish.


"It's the top award a law enforcement officer involved with traffic safety can receive. I'm tremendously pleased," he said.


For decades, Whetsel has emphasized traffic safety, and particularly since 1980 when his wife and 2-year-old daughter were killed when a law enforcement officer crashed into the family's car during a pursuit.


"That's part of the reason I am so passionate about traffic safety," he said. "I want to make sure something like that doesn't impact my family or any other family. I don't want any other family to go through what I went through."


Since he was elected sheriff, Whetsel has implemented several traffic safety initiatives, including sobriety checkpoints, driver safety programs for the elderly, a traffic safety unit, additional patrol deputies, numerous technology upgrades and expansion of the agency's first traffic fatality squad.


The traffic safety efforts are responsible for more than an 80 percent reduction in crime and more than a 90 percent reduction in traffic crashes within unincorporated areas of Oklahoma County during Whetsel's tenure in office, a sheriff's spokesman said.


"We have seen the results of having an aggressive traffic safety mentality," Whetsel said. "Lives have been saved, and people who risk injuring, or at worst killing, innocent bystanders due to their choices have been taken off the streets."


Whetsel's emphasis on traffic safety didn't start with his election as sheriff. When he was Choctaw's police chief, the department had a traffic safety unit complete with two motorcycle officers. The department regularly conducted sobriety checkpoints and speed enforcement, he said.


Baker, for whom the award is named, worked with the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety and developed a mathematical and physics approach to crash investigation that has been replicated worldwide. Baker was well-known as a pioneer in the broad field of traffic safety.

School bus safety tips for drivers and children

Every school day 23 million children ride a big yellow bus. While school buses are one of the safest modes of transport, there are real risks in getting on and off and walking to bus stops. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has offered some tips to help students, parents, and motorists safe around buses.


Tips for drivers:

  • When backing out of a driveway or leaving a garage, watch out for children walking or bicycling to school. Better yet, walk around your car or out to the sidewalk to check for any children walking in your path before you get in.
  • Drive slowly and watch for children walking in the street, especially if there are no sidewalks. Also be aware of children playing or waiting around bus stops.
  • Be alert and aware on the road. While children are typically taught about looking both ways, they could dart into the street without looking if they are late or distracted.
  • Learn the school bus laws in your state. Yellow flashing lights indicate that the bus is preparing to stop to pickup or drop off children. Drivers need to slow down and prepare to stop. Red flashing lights and an extended stop arm signal indicate that the bus is stopped, and that children are getting on or off. Cars must stop a safe distance away and not proceed until the red lights stop flashing, the stop sign folds back, and the bus continues on its way.

Tips for children:

  • Get to the bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive.
  • When the bus approaches, stand at least 6 feet away from the curb, and line up away from the street.
  • Wait until the bus stops, the door opens, and the driver says that it's okay before stepping onto the bus.
  • If you have to cross the street in front of the bus, walk on the sidewalk or along the side of the road to a point at least 10 feet ahead of the bus before you cross. Be sure that the bus driver can see you, and you can see the bus driver.
  • Use the handrails to avoid falls. When exiting the bus, be careful that clothing or backpacks don't get caught in the handrails or doors.
  • Never walk behind the bus.
  • If you drop something near the bus, tell the bus driver. Never try to pick it up because the driver may not be able to see you.

For more on child safety, see our kids and car safety guide.

-Liza Barth Copyright 2004-2011 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc.


NHTSA Steps Up Efforts to Prevent Child Deaths in Hot Cars

With record high temperatures nationwide and reports of 21 hyperthermia-related child deaths already this summer, NHTSA recently convened a roundtable with key stakeholders to help step up efforts to prevent these deaths.


With record high temperatures nationwide and reports of 21 hyperthermia-related child deaths already this summer, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) convened a first-of-its-kind roundtable with key stakeholders recently to help step up efforts to prevent these needless deaths. Children left alone in vehicles during hot weather are at risk of a serious injury or death from hyperthermia. According to NHTSA research, hyperthermia is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle deaths for children under the age of 14.


"These 21 deaths were tragic and preventable-not one of those children should have lost their lives in this horrible way," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "We need to do everything we can to remind people to be vigilant and never leave a child alone in or around a motor vehicle."


NHTSA experts were joined by representatives from the automobile industry, car seat manufacturers, victims, researchers, consumer groups, and health and safety advocates to discuss strategies to reduce child fatalities and injuries in hot vehicles.


Reports by the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences show 49 children under the age of 14 died in 2010 due to hyperthermia, with 21 deaths so far in 2011. Several states have witnessed especially high incidences of fatalities for children aged 3 and under-including Texas, Florida, California, Nevada, and North Carolina.


"We know hyperthermia is a serious threat that needs to be better addressed immediately," said David Strickland, NHTSA administrator. "A coordinated, targeted approach to increase public awareness of this very serious safety danger should help prevent unnecessary tragedies and near-misses moving forward. We need to come together and give the best information to parents, caregivers, and our communities to protect children in vehicles."


In the coming weeks and months, Strickland and his staff will host listening sessions and other activities in some of the states hardest hit by hyperthermia deaths. They will engage concerned parents, advocacy groups, automotive experts, and health and law enforcement professionals, to discuss the best ways to raise awareness and to propose strategies for preventing these tragic events.


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