A recent study of more than 2.4 million collision reports recorded by the California Highway Patrol from 2006-2011 found that at least 1053 crashed were caused by emergency vehicle drivers during that period. That’s 14.6 crashes each month in California caused by a distracted driver behind the wheel of an ambulance, fire truck, or law enforcement vehicle. The majority of these crashes involved law enforcement (local police officers or CHP drivers).
While there is a hands-free law in effect in California that prohibits using one’s hands to text or talk while driving, emergency personnel and law enforcement successfully lobbied for an exemption to this law while on duty. Although some departments enact their own rules to limit the use of cellphones amongst officers while on duty, not all do. For example, Oakland Police Department, which is one of the largest departments in the Bay Area, has no such restrictions in place. The issue is also complicated by the fact that officers are equipped with radios, cellphones, GPS devices, radar, and laptops in their cruisers that can all lead to distracted driving.
The problem for officers lies in finding a balance between being able to perform their duties (which may include using such devices) and driving safely.
There is also the question of whether officers should be exempt from the laws they themselves are supposed to enforce. Unfortunately, distracted driving does not differentiate between officers and civilians when it comes to accidents, and the results prove just as devastating. A good solution may be to require officers to ride in pairs so that the passenger can worry about handling all of the electronic equipment, which would leave the driver free to focus on driving.
This is a very complicated issue, but one that needs to be addressed so that the roads can be made safer for everyone, officer and civilian alike. Do you have a solution to this problem? Let us know about it!
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