By now, most people are aware of the dangers of distracted driving, and there are substantial national and local efforts aimed at eliminating it.
In fact, in 2010, the El Paso city council passed a law banning talking or texting on a cellphone, and El Paso is currently the only city in Texas with a ban on hand-held cellphone use. So, why then are the majority of police officers in Texas not held to the same standard?
Accidents involving distracted driving by police officers have become frequent, with state accident reports listing a minimum of 70 such accidents in 24 months-that is an average of about three crashes per month.
The problem stems from the fact that police officers are now able to use their cars like mobile desks; they are often juggling a variety of tasks involving dashboard-mounted computers and cameras, smartphones and two-way radios while driving.
Even a top driving instructor at the Dallas Police Department admits that officers have become “complacent” about carrying out multiple tasks while driving, and how that complacency has impacted safety.
Just like distracted citizens, multi-tasking police officers can cause accidents, some of which have had dire consequences. For example, in May 2010, an Austin police officer ran a stop sign while using his in-car computer and hit a man on a motorcycle. That man, a former tennis pro, now has difficulty walking and is in constant pain. Following the incident and a settlement with the victim, the Austin Police Department changed its rules governing police officer conduct in its vehicles.
There is new technology becoming available that will allow officers to use voice commands instead of typing and could also lock a car’s computer while it is in motion. However, that type of equipment is expensive, and some departments are still skeptical about placing limits on their officers.
Currently, only a few Texas police departments have a policy in place to prevent distracted driving by police officers. Until more police departments revise their policies on distracted driving by their officers, it is wise to be on the alert and to know your legal remedies if you are injured.
Source: NBC 5 Investigates, “Distractions Lead to Frequent Police Crashes in Texas,” July 31, 2012
Our law firm handles personal injury claims due to distracted driving and other causes of car accidents.