Distracted Driving by Emergency Responders Presents Safety Threats

There is one category of driver that most people don’t think of when they think about distracted or dangerous drivers – emergency first responders.

By now we are all aware of the dangers of driving while talking on a cell phone, sending a text message, or even changing the radio station.  As technological tools such as GPS devices, cell phones, and laptop computers have become more widely available, they have also found their way into police cars, ambulances and other emergency vehicles. Unfortunately, using these technological advances in attempts to save lives may also prove to put many other people in harm’s way.

What Types of Devices Do First Responders Use While Driving?
Police officers and paramedics use a variety of devices and gadgets in order to communicate with each other and to perform their duties more efficiently and effectively. In addition to the radios that have been common for decades, many vehicles are now equipped with navigational equipment, cell phones, and a variety of computers. According to some analysts, as many as 75% of police cars and 30% of ambulances contain on-board computers to help first-responders deal with emergency situations.

While these devices can certainly serve as distractions, those using them also claim that they save critical time in responding to emergencies. For example, GPS devices can help first responders to get to emergencies quicker and computers can supply police officers and paramedics with important information such as criminal or medical records on their way to the scene of a crime or the site of an accident.

One of the biggest problems with using this level of technology is that it is not always easy to operate – especially when driving at high speeds in order to reach the emergency. A computer may provide someone useful, even critical, information, but it often requires using a keyboard or mouse, and most importantly, it requires the user to take the time to actually read the information. The dangers of a speeding emergency vehicle with an officer typing, reading, and driving all at the same time is readily apparent to everyone.

Are Technological Devices Responsible for Causing Accidents?
At this time there are few statistics concerning accidents caused by distracted emergency services drivers. However, some studies have indicated that distracted drivers contribute to anywhere from 10-30% of motor vehicle accidents in the general population. While there might not be any specific information concerning police or paramedics, there have been a number of incidents reported that could be representative of a larger problem.

Two incidents in particular illustrate the danger or using devices while driving:

In 2007, a police officer in Illinois struck another vehicle when he was attempting to enter an address in his navigational device. The crash resulted in serious injuries, but likely could have been far worse if the officer had been traveling at a high rate of speed responding to an emergency. In another incident, an emergency medical technician was looking at his GPS device and then swerved and hit a flat-bed truck. The accident resulted in the paralysis of the other paramedic who had been riding in the passenger seat.

What Can Be Done to Improve Safety in Emergency Vehicles?
There are a number of improvements that can be made to balance the need for emergency responders to use electronic devices with the need to protect the public from distracted drivers. First, there is a need to provide additional training to police officers and paramedics who might need to use this technology. The simple fact that these devices exist does not mean that they should be used in all circumstances. The creation of guidelines by cities, municipalities, or states for using these devices should provide some solid ground rules and best practices that will help avoid some dangerous situations.

Second, the various devices and systems within a vehicle can be integrated together to make them easier to operate. The Project54 system was developed by a group at the University of New Hampshire to do just that. The system, which has been incorporated into about 1,000 police vehicles across the country, is based around incorporating all of the necessary devices into one system that the officer can activate and use by voice commands or by traditional input devices such as a keyboard. Finally, as technology continues to advance, new ways of interacting with devices, such as with more advanced touch screens, or with eye movements, should allow drivers to use technology without taking their focus off driving safely.

Blank-IT is an easy to install, vehicle independent, self-contained and flexible solution to the problems associated with in-vehicle computer use and will help your company address Distracted Driver legislation and related safety issues. It uses world-leading technology and can be customised to allow access to essential applications if required.

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