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Distracted driving can be deadly even in emergency vehicles

Earlier this month, we told readers that April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month across California. All this month, the California Highway Patrol and local law enforcement agencies have been cracking down (more than usual) on texting and other cellphone use behind the wheel. Safety advocates have also been trying to educate the public about the dangers of distracted driving.

It should be noted that distracted driving is a dangerous practice even if the driver is engaged in the service of public safety. Police officers, ambulance drivers and other operators of emergency vehicles are increasingly causing serious accidents while distracted by in-vehicle technology. This prompts the important question: When it comes to distracted driving, who will police the police?

According to a news story that first ran in late 2014, distracted emergency-vehicle drivers in California have injured at least 140 people and killed at least three people in the last couple years. Other state data shows that over the past decade, the number of emergency vehicle crashes caused by distracted drivers has increased by 122 percent. To be clear, these statistics involve crashes where emergency vehicle drivers were distracted and therefore deemed at fault.

Most squad cars these days come with what is basically a laptop mounted between the two front seats. This is in addition to two-way radios and a host of other gadgets. While some law enforcement agencies have clear policies about not using this type of technology while driving, others have unclear and inconsistent policies or no policies at all.

In order to do their jobs effectively, drivers of emergency vehicles need driving allowances that the rest of us do not have. Speeding is a good example. But because distracted driving cannot be done safely – even by highly skilled drivers – shouldn’t emergency vehicle drivers be held to the same standards as the rest of the public?

Source: Los Angeles Daily News, “Distracted driving on the rise for police, fire and ambulance drivers,” Brenda Gazzar, Oct. 6, 2014

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