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System aims to reduce distracted driving for police officers

System aims to reduce distracted driving for police officers

By Michael Lopardi. CREATED Jun 7, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Taking your eyes off the road for just seconds can have deadly consequences but it's not only cell phones that lead to distracted driving.

Many police officers rely on computers in patrol vehicles. A new system aims to protect the police while they protect the rest of us.

Despite Nevada's ban on handheld communication devices, it's not hard to catch distracted drivers.

"For the general population, I think it's still a very severe problem," said Erin Breen.

Breen is director of University of Nevada, Las Vegas Safe Community Partnership.

"Drive down the street and you still have people going out of their lane in both directions," said Breen.

Switch perspectives and jump in the back seat of the patrol car of Fort Wayne, Ind., police officer Raquel Foster.

"I'm surprised with all the multitasking that we do, with all the distractions, that we aren't involved in more accidents," said Foster.

Fort Wayne police worked with a manufacturer to develop Archangel II. The goal: reduced distracted driving for officers. With the system, police cannot type information into their vehicles when the cruiser is traveling 15 miles per hour or faster, though the screen can still update with new information.

"Police administrators are fooling themselves if they think their officers are out in the field and not entering data while their vehicles are moving," said Ft. Wayne police chief Rusty York.

The chief wants to improve safety but critics say the system prevents officers from accessing important information when they need it.

"I want to know who I'm pulling over," said Foster.

Locally, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police are testing a similar system in one patrol vehicle, said officer Larry Hadfield, police spokesman. However, Hadfield said it's too early to provide any feedback on how it's working or whether the system will be expanded to additional vehicles. Metro said its officers are not supposed to type on cruiser computers when responding to calls with lights and sirens.

The Nevada Highway Patrol does not have computers in its patrol cars, said Trooper Loy Hixson.

In Henderson, police do not use and are not currently considering any systems like the one in Fort Wayne, said spokesman Keith Paul. Officers are encouraged to use computers when their department vehicles are stopped or to only send short messages, if they must, while driving, Paul said.

"I don't think it's a bad idea. I think it's a good idea," said Breen. "But I also have a great respect for law enforcement and the fact that they police themselves."

Breen noted that police officers go through special driver training for their vehicles and are exempt from the state's cell phone ban.

Metro police did not provide any numbers regarding patrol vehicle crashes. The Nevada Office of Traffic Safety said it does not track distracted driving specifically for police cruisers.

Chief York told Action News each system costs about $300 and his force has already installed it in about 300 of 365 cars. The chief said he received two calls on Friday alone from agencies around the country who are interested in the system.