Police officers and paramedics sometimes must use dashboard computers, sophisticated radios, navigation systems, and cellphones at high speeds, while weaving through traffic, sirens blaring, says the New York Times. The drivers say the technology is a huge boon for their jobs, saving valuable seconds and providing instant access to essential information but it presents a clear risk and the potential to take a life while they are trying to save one.
States that ban drivers from texting or using hand-held phones tend to exempt first responders. In many places where even they are barred from using cellphones behind the wheel, the edict is ignored. For police officers, there are reasons to be checking a dashboard computer constantly. They might check a license plate of a car they are tailing by using a keyboard to call up a screen, typing in the plate number, then reading more about the owner. “There's no way you could do this without eventually running into something,” said Officer Shawn Chase of the California Highway Patrol. “The first time you almost rear-end something, you say, 'Whoa, I better not do this,' ” he said. “You learn quick.” University of New Hampshire researchers, backed by $34 million in federal funds, have been developing hands-free technology for police cars.