It’s not a good sign if your city’s police officers are getting in distracted driving car accidents. That’s the case in Portland, Oregon, where police officer Ty Garrison struck an 80-year-old woman while looking at his vehicle’s mobile computer. This week, the city and police department are expected to pay a $338,477 settlement to cover medical costs and other general damages that resulted from the car accident.
“Out of the corner of his eye, Garrison saw a blur, and when he looked up, he found 80-year-old Alganesh Negasi directly in front of his police car,” said the police report. “Officer Garrison braked hard, but was unable to stop his car before impacting the pedestrian, causing significant injury.
Officer Garrison has admitted that he was at fault, and both sides agree that this was an unfortunate accident, not the result of wrongful intent. “She’s a very nice lady who’s tough and not a crybaby,” said Marvin Nepom, attorney for Negasi, who is an Ethiopian immigrant. “The officer admitted he was momentarily distracted. It was just an unfortunate accident that occurred and the city stepped up to the plate, if you will, and we resulted the case.”
In response to the accident, Portland Police Chief Mike Reese wrote that “prevention of vehicular accidents is a priority for the Police Bureau.” But the city’s distracted driving laws for civilians and government employees set up a distracted driving paradox for police officers, reports the Oregonian. When a statewide law against cell phone use in the car went into effect early this year, the police department said no officer could drive a city vehicle while operating a cell phone or other communications device. But that regulation has a key exception allowing the use of mobile computers in such vehicles while “conducting police business.”
Clearly, police must use the technology available to serve the city’s safety interests in a quick and efficient manner. But they also have an obligation to practice what they preach, which is why the department has issued guidelines for such use of technology in police cars. “We talk to officers about pulling off the side of the road if they need to use their MDTs, cellphones, or to text,” said Captain Ed Thompson of the state’s public safety department. “We highly recommend they pull over and take care of that, rather than trying to balance a bunch of distracting activities.”
We’ve developed an interactive map showing distracted driving laws in each state across the country. Clearly, officers should be expected to abide by these rules in addition to enforcing them. But since officers also require the use of technology like cell phones and mobile computers, Thompson’s suggestion appears to have the highest chance of success in terms of road safety, and police work.
Photo credit: davidsonscott15