However, the officer is backed by vehicle manufacturers, which respond to common design faults and complaints from law enforcement officers. For instance, Ford previously designed a seat with the padding carved out from the bottom of the seat back, providing additional room for the officer's weapon and handheld radio. "An important thing we can do for [officers] is to keep them comfortable, because they are sitting in that seat so much," Blackmer stresses.
The vehicle's ergonomic design becomes more complicated with the addition of communications, computer and accessory mounts. Knowing that each agency sets up its patrol vehicles differently, vehicle manufacturers face challenges when it comes to balancing efficient communications and smart ergonomic design. "When an agency or department purchases a laptop mount, this creates a couple of problems and some risk," explains Blackmer. "When it's opened, it could block out the radio, which might be bothersome. It could block the trunk-release button, the climate control, ashtray, cup holders or anything on that center stack." Ultimately, since the mount is an aftermarket purchase, departments installing any additional equipment should weigh access to communications and accessories versus the convenience of the mount.
Major vehicle manufacturers, such as Ford, Chrysler and General Motors Corp., employ police advisory boards to act as a liaison and a resource for other law enforcement agencies. According to Moran, a member of all three manufacturer advisory boards, officer safety has also been discussed as it pertains to airbag deployment and the relationship of different mounts and equipment.
Law enforcement should consider where they mount equipment with the airbag positioning in mind. "It is possible for something struck by an airbag to become a projectile inside the car when the airbags deploy," Wilson says.
Aside from flying laptops and print mount projectiles, another airbag-related issue is the likely integration of side-curtain airbags into future vehicle models in order to pass the side-pole crash test in effect beginning with the 2013 model year. These airbags inflate across the full window area to protect passengers in all outboard seating positions in a side-impact collision. Blackmer explains, "While there is no mandate that says you have to put curtain airbags [in the vehicle], passing the crash test will drive companies to integrate them."
He goes on to say that while there won't be a problem implementing these devices in consumer vehicles, there will be a problem in police squads. A decision will need to be made by police agencies on how to partition the front and rear seats without interfering with side-curtain airbag deployment. With a security screen installed, the airbag may not be able to inflate correctly. A simple solution may be to cut down the security screen, but doing so could allow a prisoner to gain access to the front seat.
With law enforcement officers sitting for a full 8- or 10-hour shift, proper vehicle ergonomics should be a major factor in choosing fleet vehicles. But for officers to make the selection themselves, each officer would need to sit for hundreds of miles in every law enforcement vehicle package to effectively compare models. Fortunately, the Michigan State Police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department conduct vehicle ergonomics evaluations in addition to annual performance testing, i.e. speed, acceleration and braking.
Both the MSP and LASD Vehicle tests evaluated the Chevrolet Impala and Tahoe (the only pursuit-rated SUV included in the tests), the Dodge Magnum and Charger, and the popular Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor.
The resulting scores are based on the test driver's personal opinion of each particular ergonomic aspect. "[The test drivers] are dedicated individuals, they have to retain the same level of proficiency for each of the tests," says Moran.
Ergonomic evaluators are recruited from each test's regional area. Officers sit in the vehicle in full uniform for a realistic representation of how the officer's day-to-day vehicle ergonomic issues can be addressed, explains Wilson.