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Distracted Driving Accidents Involving Emergency Vehicles on the Rise

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.