Recently after running a line of shooters on a new proposed qualification course I was standing in front of an officer talking to him about how to improve his shooting when he grabbed his smart-phone off his belt read a text someone had sent him and then with both thumbs, began clicking out a response. I said, "I hope that text is telling you how to shoot better," and walked away to another shooter who had more interest in improving his skill at arms than a non work related text.
Don't get me wrong, I dig technology. Although I don't have texting on my cell at the moment, my new phone contract will have it. I have resisted thus far because of cost and too much connectivity issues (getting away from the net is sometimes a nice thing). I'm typing this column on a notebook computer that's connected to Wi-Fi. I have several email accounts and exchange email with other trainers and friends nationwide as well as having my own website. I keep up with my profession and associates via Facebook. I check the news daily online. I have a GPS unit in my personal car and have had one for a number of years. Technology has improved my life, eased my work and helps keep me in touch with family and friends. But technology or the overuse of same can hurt you as well.
There doesn't seem to be a day that goes by that I don't encounter another driver that is distracted while they're busy talking on their cell phones when they should be focused on their driving. Like each one of you I'm sure, I see that they are completely oblivious to the other cars around them or have reduced their peripheral vision on one side. Distraction leads to disaster...
Item: The engineer of a commuter train in California was texting some young train enthusiast friends when he apparently missed the red light that indicated another train was on the tracks ahead. Failing to stop his commuter train impacted with a freight train the result was 25 dead and over 135 injured.
Item: A police officer was killed while on an accident scene doing reconstruction work when a texting motorist hit and killed him.
Item: Numerous bus and truck drivers have hit cars or pedestrians while they were texting. One internet video shows a bus driver texting for six minutes prior to hitting another vehicle.
Item: An off-duty Sheriff's Deputy may have been texting while driving on an interstate prior to losing control and impacting a concrete divider. The collision took her life.
According to Jane Stutts, PhD in the AAA report Distractions in Everyday Driving (2001) an estimated 1.2 million accidents occur each year due to distracted drivers.
"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in 2008 that driver distraction is the cause of 16% of all fatal crashes - 5,800 people killed - and 21% of crashes resulting in an injury - 515,000 people wounded. Distracted driving endangers life and property and the current levels of injury and loss are unacceptable. There's no way around it - this is an urgent problem that simply must be addressed." (Testimony of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to Congress Nov/2009)
Over my police career the amount of distractions in terms of technology that have been placed in a patrol car interior have increased tremendously. From patrol radios with two to four channels, one which to turn on the overhead lights and one rotating switch for the siren, we have gone to multiple radio channels with multiple zones and bands, multiple light and siren settings and the MDB. All of this can require your attention as you drive and all can create distraction. Distraction at slow speeds can result in fender benders. Distraction and multi-tasking at high speeds can result in your death or the deaths of innocents.
Add to the mix the sending of texts whether on the MDB or on a cell-phone and the distraction and potential for catastrophe increases. Because the attention required to operate a keyboard is higher and requires the operator to take his or her eyes off the road to spell-check, the distraction is greater. Of course receiving texts requires taking the eyes off the road to read the message.
Car and Driver magazine conducted a test to see how sending and receiving texts compared to driver under the influence. Rigging a car with a windshield mounted red light which signaled to the driver to brake, the magazine found at 70 mph: that an alcohol impaired driver traveled four feet further before braking; a driver reading a message traveled 36 feet further; but a driver that was sending a text traveled 70 feet before they saw the light and came to a stop. Compare all of the distractions with a sober driver who reacts in about half a second. Keep in mind that these tests were conducted on a straight section of an abandoned airstrip without any other additional traffic, signal lights or pedestrians.
Sure valuable information can be transmitted to you from dispatchers or other officers in route to a call but the first rule of emergency response driving is arrive alive and the more distractions you deal with, the harder that is to do especially at any kind of speed.
Even low speed driving on city streets or rural back-roads can be perilous as you try to text with both thumbs on your crackberry while steering the car.
To sit in a law enforcement training class and text, paying more attention to the back and forth communication than you do to the instructor is disrespectful and stupid (setting you up for missing the class or lecture). Even worse is to read a text in front of a firearms instructor trying to help you shoot better. Reading or sending non-work related texts while driving is just asking for trouble of the vehicle crash kind.
Of course the modern police officer is forced to operate the control, communications and safety equipment of the patrol vehicle on a daily basis. Many of these functions can be distracting to the primary function of driving but can be managed. Engaging in non-work related text messaging while on the job exposes you and innocent citizens to unacceptable risk. Technology should aid and assist you in your job and not expose you to greater risk. Texting while engaging in any call that requires your attention is reckless and especially so while driving - don't do it or pull over and do it safely.