How We Did It: Distracted-Driving Investigation

Tuesday, Jul 31, 2012  |  Updated 8:28 PM CDT
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Our researcher, Shane Allen, filed a public information request with the Texas Department of Public Safety. We requested crash reports across the state that involved emergency vehicles.

Under the Texas Public Information Act, we were able to get a database with reports from accidents across the state involving emergency vehicles. We discovered that in 24 months, there were at least 70 accidents across the state involving emergency vehicles (primarily police cars) where some kind of distraction inside the emergency vehicle was noted as a contributing factor in the crash. That’s an average of roughly three crashes a month here in Texas.

We also wanted to see if police departments in our area had policies regarding the use of cellphones, mobile data computers or mobile data terminals, radios and dashboard cameras.

We filed information requests with the largest departments in our area: Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Denton, Irving, Plano, as well as DPS and the Tarrant, Collin, Dallas, and Denton County sheriff’s departments. We also requested the Austin Police Department’s policy because we interviewed a man injured in a crash there.

Investigative producer Eva Parks combed through the policies. We discovered some have clearly defined policies for use of technology inside the car. Others do not. For the ones where policy isn’t clearly defined, we reached out to make sure we weren’t missing something.

Out of the departments surveyed, only a few actually have written policies limiting or prohibiting typing on their mobile computers while driving, including: the Tarrant County and Collin County sheriff’s offices and the Plano Police Department.

From there, we requested interviews with police departments and city officials to ask about their policies -- or lack of policies.

One accident involving an officer actually resulted in a policy change. In May 2010, Louis Olivier was riding his motorcycle when an Austin police officer using a computer hit him. After the accident, Austin police changed their policy to prohibit officers from extended typing while driving.

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