Avoid Distracted Driving in the Squad Car

One of the hottest topics in driving safety is distracted driving. Everyone has seen the fellow driver reading the paper, applying makeup or texting while driving. Jurisdictions nationwide have recognized the danger distracting driving presents; however, they continually ask the very officers entrusted to dissuade others of the practice to drive with far more distractions than almost anyone else on the road. So, the question is, how can you prevent yourself or someone else from becoming a victim of your own distracted driving?

  1. Distracted DrivingGo hands free – cell phones have become the life line of modern society, and police officers are no different. Although radios remain the official means of communication, many departments rely more and more on the use of cellphones. Plus, like the public in general, officers find it hard to unplug for 8 to 12 hours per day and also carry personal cellphones while on duty. If you must carry a cellphone while driving, a hands free device such as Bluetooth ear piece can greatly reduce the distraction taking or receiving a telephone call presents.
  2. Resist the MDT – MDTs, or mobile data terminals, are the public safety version of smartphones. Just as the latter allows for instant access to social media, emails and the internet, MDTs allow officers to also check their email, run a suspect’s plates or even obtain a driver’s history all while cruising at top speed to your next call. Many departments even dispatch electronic messaging via the MDT. However, just because you have an MDT does not mean that’s the only way to get information. With the exception of email or the internet, all the information available via the MDT is also available the old fashioned way, by calling the dispatcher via the radio. Although the use of the radio is itself a distraction, it is far less of a hazard than typing on or reading from an MDT.
  3. Remove other distractions – just like the driver who is reading the paper or checking emails while driving, many officers fall prey to trying to multi task while heading to the next call. The key to avoiding many of the potential distractions is to simply remove them from the equation. Turn down the radio and train yourself to recognize the traffic intended for you. Store your case files or notes for the next court hearing where you cannot reach them while driving, thus removing the temptation to scan them while behind the wheel.
  4. Everything in its place – the best, and often most popular, squad cars are designed to allow the operator to easily reach and manipulate not only the vehicle controls but also the emergency lights, siren, MDT and even cellphones. My own department recently found that by simply swapping the position of the siren controls and radio that the display on the latter was easier to read when installed in our latest patrol vehicle. If you identify problems with your equipment configuration, a similar solution may be all that is required.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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