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Could You Be at Risk of a Distracted Driving Accident with a First Responder?

Jun 25, 2013 - Car Accidents by

Police, paramedics and EMTs are on the roads to respond to accidents and to monitor safe driving. What if, however, these first responders and law enforcement personnel are actually a safety-risk themselves?

Police, EMTs, first-responders and paramedics have many electronic devices in their cars, are generally exempt from distracted driving laws and often depend upon using this technology while traveling through traffic at high speeds.

Unfortunately, while these first responders may be immune from distracted driving laws, they aren’t immune from the risks associated with distracted driving. As the New York Times reports, one paramedic described the combination of technology use and high speeds as having the “potential for disaster.” Our Tuscaloosa accident lawyers know that such disasters have already happened, as there have been several documented accidents in which police or EMTs have caused serious accidents while using the technology in their vehicles.

EMTS & Police Depend on Dangerous Technology

In police work and when responding to medical calls, every second counts. This is why police cars and ambulances are, as the Times describes, “the most wired vehicles on the road.” Technology on board includes computers; cell phones; GPS or navigation systems; and sophisticated radios. These technological devices let paramedics know where to respond to calls and let police know where there is an emergency that they need to respond to.

Unfortunately, law enforcement personnel and EMTs need to look at and use these devices, often while driving with sirens blaring and while weaving through traffic. Looking away from the road for more than two seconds has been documented to increase a crash risk even under typical circumstances with a driver going at normal speeds. When first responders need to look away from the road for a longer period of time to use these devices, this can create a significant crash risk. This is especially true when the police officer or EMT is traveling very quickly.

The New York Times provided a list of just a few accidents that have already occurred as a result of this distracted driving problem in emergency vehicles. For example:

  • An emergency medical technician in New York hit a parked flatbed truck while looking at a GPS. This sheared off the ambulance’s side and paralyzed his partner in the passenger seat.
  • A sheriff’s deputy driving thirty-miles per hour in Illinois was entering an address in his GPS after receiving a radio call. He struck a sedan stopped in traffic and seriously injured the driver.

The News Miner also reported on an Anchorage police officer who ran a red light while looking at a computer screen, seriously injuring an army veteran who was in his month-old pickup truck. The injured man is suing the municipality of Anchorage for $500,000 in compensatory damage and $2.5 million in punitive damages. His medical bills and car repairs have already been paid by the city.

As the Alaska case shows, these car accidents can have serious consequences for the injured drivers and also serious financial consequences for the government that employs the first responder.

While police and EMTs may not be subject to distracted driving laws, they are still expected to exercise reasonable caution, and a lawsuit can be filed by injured victims hurt by a failure to do so.

Because police officers or EMTs are agents of the government when doing their jobs, it is the government who is the defendant that has to pay when a lawsuit is filed. Unfortunately, these claims can be very complicated because of government immunity rules. This means injured victims need to ensure that they have an experienced, competent lawyer who understands the legal complexities involved with suing the government and who can help to take action.

Additional Resources:

Birmingham Car Accidents May Rise with Increasing Smartphone Users, Alabama Injury Attorneys Blog, June 10, 2013.

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