Drivers of Emergency Vehicles Cause Crashes

Recently, NBC Bay Area’s Investigation Unit revealed that every other day an accident is caused by a distracted emergency driver in California. At least 1,053 of the 2.4 million reports of collisions over a 5 year period (2006 to 2011) were caused by the drivers of emergency vehicles – ambulances, police vehicles and fire trucks. That is equivalent to 14 crashes a month.

Our car accident lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm are shocked to know that accidents are caused by these drivers so frequently. Unfortunately, the law in California that prohibits drivers from texting or talking on a handheld cell phone does not apply to a professional emergency services drivers.

Of the 1000+ crashes involving the distracted operators of emergency vehicles, the majority involved CHP (California Highway Patrol) drivers or local police officers.

In 2010, a CHP officer collided with the back of a taxi. The officer was driving at a speed of about 60 mph at the time. According to the officer, his eyes were off the road while he looked down at his MDC (Mobile Digital Computer).

In addition to getting abrasions on his left arm, the officer complained of back pain and was sent to a hospital. The driver of the taxi suffered back and neck pain from the crash and his taxi was totaled.

Regarding other crashes, the reports revealed officers admitting they were distracted by the computers in their vehicles, were viewing their monitors, or on their cell phones in the moments just before the crash.

State Senator Joe Simitian opined that distracted driving, even in the best drivers, is a killer, and preventative measures must be taken.

Simitian authored the California law prohibiting the use of a handheld cell phones while driving. The law took effect on July 1, 2008. In the first year, there was a 20% reduction in fatalities and a 20% reduction in crashes.

Law enforcement and emergency personnel requested an exemption from the hands-free law when on duty. The exemption was granted, though officials are wondering if this was a mistake.

However, many local jurisdictions appear to have put their own judgment into practice. More than 90% of the law enforcement agencies that the Investigative Unit approached in nine Bay Area counties have a policy to limit cell phone use when driving. Their justification for the policy – cell phones can cause needless distractions and give off a negative public image.

The majority of the above agencies also restrict computer use for emergencies or when the vehicle is stopped. Oakland is an exception in spite of being one of the biggest police agencies in the Bay Area. The agency has no guideline pertaining to computer use. As per CHP records, the distracted driving of Oakland cops was responsible for seven crashes.

The Washington State University’s (WSU) professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology is heading the nation’s first ever study that tries to quantify the effect distracted driving has on officers. For the study, researchers make use of a simulator meant to imitate the inside of an actual police cruiser. Sensors are used to monitor the officers’ heart rate and eye movement. The officer has to remain within 100 feet of the vehicle at a speed of 55 mph while looking at a monitor and touching the screen on seeing keywords.

The results of the study are due in spring and would possibly change the way the government and the police force look at distracted driving.

If you were injured in an accident caused by distracted driving, contact an auto accident attorney for effective and efficient legal representation.


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