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Cockpit Distractions In Your Patrol Car

Today's patrol vehicles bring plenty of electronic distractions.

September 06, 2012  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Screenshot via PoliceMag.
Screenshot via PoliceMag.

We are losing far too many brother and sister law enforcement officers in traffic accidents that can be avoided. The sad thing is that we've always had this problem and always will because our cars serve as mobile offices. When the order is given to stay off the roads due to weather or inclement conditions, we're still out there. Let's reduce the amount of distractions that keep us from the business of operating a police vehicle.

In my day, we had one switch to pull/push to activate the lights. The radio had an on/off/volume and channel knob. The siren had a dial for off, yelp, or wail. Some of the cars didn't have an AM radio. That was it. You learned to listen to the police radio. Sadly though, we still had accidents.

I was talking to a trooper the other day and took a gander into his electric wonderland of a car. The trooper's means of transportation serves as his office, the mobile investigative command center, and speed enforcement vehicle. Yes, it's also a police car. How the electrical system of today's car withstands the electric load is amazing to me.

Additionally, the cost of today's total police car is nearly half add-on electronics. I'm not going to get into how to operate the radios, mobile data terminals (MDT), speed enforcement devices, on-board camera systems, light bars that can direct jet plane landings and such. Some officers add GPS, CB radios and satellite radios (for hard-to-get music stations). Here's the problem—they all become "cockpit distractions."

When I was an FTO, I told my recruits that we weren't going to listen to the AM/FM radio even though the ballgame was on. The recruit had to learn to listen to the police radio to learn how to operate a police vehicle while on patrol conditions. The way you drive a car and operate a police vehicle are two different skills. My recruits had to learn how to do one first before we added what few distractions we had back then.

Operating a police vehicle is serious business and at no time should it be made secondary. So wheeling down the road while screwing around with the MDT and chatting on the cell phone is dangerous. We constantly hear anti-texting public service announcements, and we do almost the same thing. Now, I know we are cops! We can drive at warp speed, drink coffee, and talk on the radio at the same time, right? Let's drop back and rethink this. Be honest. We have all driven down the road and been fiddling with the radio, glanced down at the cell, and then glanced up in the nick of time to avoid a crash.

I'm not writing this as a chief who doesn't want the fleet gnarled up. I'm writing this as the old police trainer who is weary of younger officers getting injured or dying while at the wheel. Some accidents will always occur, but if this article promotes one officer to think twice and maybe save their life, it was worth it. Stop, think, and proceed with safety.

Tags: officer safety, Code 3 Driving, Police Vehicle Accidents


Comments (4)

Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Cecilio Mendez @ 9/7/2012 5:43 PM

Add to that equation the fact that sleep deprivation is a "fact of life" to all LEO's and the problem grows exponentially. Bang me on my head, but there should be a way to monitor how many hours of sleep (or sleep-less) time each officer is getting per day. Something like the monitors used by X-ray technicians. Machines can run forever, humans don't!

Charlie N. @ 9/11/2012 8:22 PM

While not quite a dinosaur (unlike Andy and Barney, I had two round globes on top of my squad car not just one), it's amazing what the "new kids" have to play with these days. We did have AM radio but being in the wilds of Wyoming, we had 2 channels we could pick up during the day, perhaps 6 at night depending on which way we were facing. Our Lt's and Sgt.'s were preaching about the "good old days, one ranger one riot." The only computer was in the dispatch office used for NCIC's and contacts with other law enforcement departments. While many of the younger officers may think this was in the 50's or 60's, no it was the late 70's and early 80's. Our badges all said patrolman NOT police officer as there were no women on the front line. And yes, even without all of today's distractions, we had our share of 10-50's. It's just amazing the difference and the amazing amount of changes law enforcement had in just one generation. And I'm sure the next generation will look back at the current officers wondering how on earth you ever survived back in the "dark ages." Bottom line to my brothers and sisters, be safe out there! It only takes one slip up to end a career or even worse your life.

Crash @ 9/26/2012 5:54 AM

Amen! Everyone has smartphones, mdt's, moving radar, etc. I feel like I'm strapped into a figher plane at times. Adding to this, the motor vehicle manufactorers are building cars with so many blind spots. I'm not that old, but I remember life and work before all these gadgets. Our job is not about people, not toys. This job was done effectively with a .45 GI, a flashlight and a notepad. And the notepad was what you used the most. So many officers have difficulty in functioning when the computors go down. It's about us talking to them.

Tom Boren @ 9/26/2012 6:59 AM

As a 35 year veteran, now chief; one of my priorities is to always remember the horrible hours, missed family events and other "dues" I paid in the various assignments I survived and now try to mitigate a lot of the crap that was just poor planning, thoughtless management and chest thumping---and try not to inflict that on my officers and staff. Having said that; this article is a valid "dutch uncle's" sermon for our men and women out there on the street. While the argument can be made that today's society has conditioned modern professionals to be able to "multi-task" better than ever before; the odds are too great to test these theories. A further word on the subject may be to Admin and Supervisors: Acknowledge safety as vigourously as you do failures of behaviors. When was the last time an officer was commended for breaking off a pursuit; pulling over to handle cell phone or computer business, etc. Make sure the safe personal practices are reinforced by FTOs; Supervisors and Peers. My first FTO (we did not know that term when he was my "Rabbi"), used to say where three things a good cop should never do: Get wet; go hungry; or not arrive alive to back up another cop or help a citizen. Obviously over-simplified but the simple concepts like simple movements, and simple phrases still contain simple truths. Be safe! Keep the walls Bare!

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