To protect and swerve: Cops driving distracted
No one should be above the law, and yet while 39 states ban texting and driving, police are largely exempt from the rules, according to an NBC News report. (See: "The 411 on cellphone tickets and insurance.")
The result? Some cops are driving while distracted by their high-tech gizmos and crashing into people.
Have you seen the inside of a cop car lately? Hopefully you haven't, but this YouTube clip of a 2012 Dodge Charger cruiser reveals that it looks very much like a NASA control station. Police spend the majority of their work hours in their vehicles, so it makes sense that squad cars have morphed into mobile offices. It also makes sense that officers would want to be checking registration and warrant updates on the computer or otherwise engaging with all the technology riding shotgun with them. The problem is that accidents involving police driving while distracted is dangerous – and costly.
In Texas, an analysis of state accident reports revealed at least 70 crashes in 24 months "where some kind of distraction inside an emergency vehicle contributed to the wreck -- an average of almost three crashes per month," according to an NBC investigative report by Scott Friedman.
In Minnesota, an analysis of police auto liability insurance claims found that 14 percent of claims and 17 percent of costs were for crashes that involved distracted driving. "Although the crashes attributed to distracted driving account for a proportionately low number of the total claims, they were the costliest at approximately $6,600 per incident," says the report. That's almost double the average cost of a police auto liability of about $3000, according to the report.
One police chief is taking heed of the trend. Rusty York, the top cop in Fort Wayne, Ind., in September had all the police cars in his department equipped with a system that automatically locks keyboards and touch-screens when the cruiser is going over 15 mph.
Other municipal officials are unfazed. Arlington, Texas Mayor Robert Cluck said he does not have a problem with officers typing and driving and is not concerned about crashes, according to Friedman's report.
"I just think our officers are above the fray there…they're well-trained," he said. "They understand distracted driving, and they can do both (drive and use computers)."
Perhaps citizens of Arlington agree. Maybe they take comfort in Cluck's confidence in his law enforcement officials. Or maybe they don't. I certainly can't speak for them. But I do hope when they need to call 911, the officer doesn't crash on the way. What do you think?
Des Toups is a writer, editor and expert on insurance, cars and personal finance. He has written extensively about all three for national publications such as MSN and major newspapers such as the Seattle Times. He has been quoted about insurance issues in The New York Times, USA Today and Kiplinger's.
Follow him on Twitter @destoups