Are gadgets interfering with cops’ driving?

Published 18 October 2011

A recent study found that the amount of technology inside a police car may be distracting drivers and leading to accidents


A recent study found that the amount of technology inside a police car may be distracting drivers and leading to accidents.

Researchers at St. Mary’s University analyzed 378 crashes between 2006 and 2010 that involved police officers and found that distracted driving accounted for 14 percent of the accidents. The 378 crashes resulted in more than $1.1 million in damages and distracted driving accounted for 17 percent of the costs.

In particular, technology inside the squad car was cited as having played a key role in 12 percent of claims and accounted for 24 percent of costs.

Researchers were careful to note that the results of their study may have been skewed due to a tendency within police culture to not report distracted driving for fear of disciplinary action.

“Individual departmental policies and procedures presented an additional difficulty in gathering accurate data,” the study stated. “An officer will be closely scrutinized following involvement in a work related crash. An officer who shows inattention, carelessness, or distraction while performing essential duties is at-risk for departmental discipline. Ultimately, discipline may lead to termination. It is understood that an officer may weigh these factors when giving a statement regarding the facts of a crash.”

As a result, 48 percent of the claims examined did not clearly state whether technology influenced the crash or not.

Mark Raquet, head of the Minnetonka police department in Minnesota, said that his department could not specifically attribute any crashes to technology, with the exception of one accident that occurred fifteen years ago.

In the past five years, there’s nothing I can say 100 percent was related to technology,” he said.

Raquet went on to say that the report did not necessarily come to any new conclusions.

I think distractions in police vehicles are nothing new,” he said. “Certainly with the advent of technology it’s changed. If you go back prior to the the computer that we have in our squads, we still had to get the call and at that time, we were writing the information down.”

He added that the study was successful in launching a dialogue on an important topic.

We can always do better in trying to increase the safety of not only the officers but the motoring public. We’re all driving around trying to multi-task all the time,” Raquet said.

In contrast Bill Hutton, the Washington County Sheriff, agreed with the results of the study and urged law enforcement agencies to rethink technology inside squad cars to minimize distracted driving and potential accidents.

We’re hiring techy young recruits to operate all the new pieces of equipment while driving at the same time,” Hutton said. “When they can’t do that, we write in our reports that they can’t multitask. We need a fundamental shift in thinking.”

In my day, we relied heavily on the radio. But all updates now come through on (deputies’) computer screens,” Hutton added. “I don’t know how we can ask people to (drive and watch computer screens) safely.”