While California drivers are prevented from using handheld cell phones
behind the wheel, emergency vehicles are increasingly equipped with radios,
laptops, and other technology. Not surprisingly, distracted driving accidents
involving police officers, firefighters, and paramedics are on the rise.
As detailed in a recent
Los Angeles Daily News article, the number of distracted driving crashes involving emergency vehicle
drivers on public roads who were at-fault skyrocketed 122 percent over
the past ten years. In 2013, drivers of police cars, fire trucks and ambulances
caused at least 180 traffic collisions in California, which is akin to
one crash every other day.
The increased role of technology goes hand in hand with the increased number
of distracted driving crashes. In fact, electronic equipment was cited
as a contributing cause in more than 25 percent of the 2013 accidents
involving first responders.
In one tragic case, a unit chief with the California Department of Forestry
and Fire Protection rear-ended a car on a San Bernardino freeway, resulting
in the death of Gregory Kirwin. The driver, who was using a hands-free
cell phone at the time of the crash, was charged with vehicular manslaughter.
The state agreed to pay Kirwin’s two young daughters $15 million
to settle a civil case.
“Black-and-whites now are equipped with more equipment that affords
faster and more accurate information to officers but at the same time
provides a certain degree of distraction while driving,” said Robert
Stresak, executive director of California’s Commission on Peace
Officer Standards and Training.
Drivers of emergency vehicles are generally exempt from California’s
distracted driving laws when they are performing work functions. However,
some local agencies are reviewing their policies and restricting the use
of technology while driving.