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Alberta judge recommends RCMP update U-turn training after death of Mountie

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EDMONTON - An Alberta judge says RCMP should change how it trains officers to make U-turns following the death of Mountie in a traffic crash.

The recommendation is the key finding of a fatality inquiry report into the May 2009 death of Const. James Lundblad near Millet, south of Edmonton.

Provincial court Judge Bart Rosborough recommends that RCMP should train officers to bring their vehicles to a full stop so they can check for oncoming traffic before making U-turns.

"There is no requirement that the police officer stop the vehicle and rely on that as a more significant prompting to shoulder check for traffic," Rosborough wrote in his report released Wednesday.

"A full stopping of the vehicle would, in my opinion, constitute a much more significant break in the chain of activity involved in a U-turn and might promote the type of check that would avoid the type of collision that occurred in this case."

Lundblad was driving north on Highway 2A and started a U-turn to pursue a speeding vehicle going in the other direction.

The report says the officer pulled over to right shoulder of the road and switched on his left turn signal, but did not turn on the car's emergency lights before making the turn.

His police cruiser was hit broadside by a truck as it made the U-turn.

The report notes the Alberta's traffic laws and rules clearly spell out that motorists can't make U-turns unless the movement can be made safely without interfering with other traffic.

Rosborough said it is obvious that the U-turn that Lundblad made could not be made safely and resulted in his death.

The fatality inquiry report notes that making U-turns is almost a routine driving manoeuvre for police and that officers in Alberta likely perform "millions" of U-turns each year, the vast majority without incident.

But he also notes there have been four fatal or serious collisions involving police making U-turns in Alberta since 2003.

Rosborough's report says the RCMP reviewed its U-turn policy in 2010 and found that officers sometimes fail to detect vehicles behind them before making U-turns.

"It concluded that, in the case of each serious injury accident, there were clear failures of perception and judgment when U-turns were performed."

The report said the RCMP has since made changes to its U-turn training. But it also notes the changes do not include requiring Mounties to actually stop their cars before making the turns.

An RCMP traffic expert told the fatality inquiry such a requirement would be a good idea and should be taught to Mounties.

Staff Sgt. James Murray Johnston ran the RCMP National Collision Reconstruction Program in Ottawa and is now the traffic services co-ordinator for the RCMP in Alberta.

"We could at least teach it and our next generation of policemen would be taught that every reversal of direction starts from a stop," Johnston said in his testimony to the inquiry.

"If we come to a full stop, we would then engage the next step, which is looking to see when I can re-enter traffic."

Currently, Alberta traffic sheriffs are not required to come to a full stop before making U-turns.

Patrick Mears, an Alberta Justice Department spokesman, said there are no plans to change that policy. He said the province will forward Rosborough's recommendation to municipal police forces to get their feedback on the idea.

"In our guidelines there is nothing that says you have to stop before making a U-turn," Mears said.

"If enough police services come back to us and they have concerns with the policy, we will open discussions with them on it."

RCMP were reviewing the report Wednesday and were not immediately available to comment on the recommendation.

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