Distracted cops pose risks to other drivers

Computers in police cars are an important tool for fighting crime and officer safety, but they are also enough of a distraction to cause crashes. Texting while driving is illegal in many states, but officers are allowed to type in data and read screens while on the road. Police departments usually have rules regulating in-car computer use but squad car collisions caused by officers not paying full attention to their driving are happening across the country. The Arlington, Texas police department is one example of the problem.

A local television station asked the Arlington police chief how many police cars were involved in distracted driving collisions, and the chief said that three minor crashes were blamed on in-car computer use. The chief said officers are trained and there is no safety risk. In fact, 18 Arlington patrol cars were in accidents caused by computer use. Dash-cam video obtained by the TV station showed police cars driving off the road, rear-ending other vehicles, hitting cars in intersections, and more. One video showed an officer driving about 40 miles per hour while typing and running through a barricade on a dead-end street.

The chief admits that civilians may think there’s a double standard. The department wants officers to stop their cars before using the computer, but as a practical matter that doesn’t happen 100 percent of the time. This is not a problem unique to Arlington or Texas. Most police departments across the nation have computer-equipped patrol cars. Recently, electronics manufacturer Motorola unveiled what it called the next-generation police car. The vehicle has seven cameras that give the driver a 360-degree view, a computer, a smartphone-like device, and numerous other distractions not found in current model police vehicles.

It is highly unlikely that state legislatures will restrict or outlaw the use of police car computers. Drivers need to be alert if they see what appears to be a distracted officer about to cause a crash. Most drivers would hesitate to honk the horn at a cop car, but under the right circumstances it might prevent an accident.

Source: NBC5, “Arlington police changing driving policy,” Scott Friedman, Nov. 5, 2012

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