Study: Minn. police squad car computers can be crash hazard

9:51 AM, Oct 13, 2011   |    comments
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ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Minnesota police officers distracted by computers in their squad cars cause by far the most expensive crashes, a statewide study has found.

Distracted driving caused 14 percent of claims for police-involved vehicle crashes in Minnesota from 2006 through 2010, according to a study by a public safety administration class at St. Mary's University of Minnesota.

The students analyzed 378 police-involved crashes and examined their causes, including common factors such as time of day, driving conduct, motion, distracted driving and technology. The study's aim was to better understand what caused distracted driving and to recommend ways to reduce risks.

The class analyzed data from the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust at their request. The data didn't include several of the state's largest law enforcement agencies, such as the Minneapolis and St. Paul departments, or county sheriff's offices.

The study, completed in April, was the topic of a discussion on distracted driving held Wednesday at the Minneapolis campus of the Winona-based university.

Car crashes are an expensive claim for the League of Minnesota Cities, which insures its member cities, said Dan Greensweig, assistant administrator of the insurance trust.

"We thought it merited getting a better handle on what the potential cause might be," Greensweig said.

Among the study's findings:

- The overall average cost per claim was about $3,000. Distracted-driving claims cost an average of $6,000, the data showed.

- Half the crashes from distraction were because of squad car computers. Those crashes resulted in the most expensive claims, averaging about $10,000.

- Most of the crashes occurred during non-emergency responses.

- The most expensive claims stemmed from crashes that occurred while police were responding to an emergency.

Given the limited data, it's still unclear how much of a problem distracted driving is, said Kurt Mencel, a retired Minneapolis police sergeant and recent St. Mary's graduate who worked on the study.

Greensweig agreed: "I think what we've concluded is that it merits further study."

Given the advancement of technology in policing, the issue of distracted driving is unlikely to go away, Mencel said.

The study recommended that law enforcement policies and training address distracted driving and technology use. It also recommended that agencies look at their vehicles' interiors to ensure officers have optimal viewing outside the vehicle.

Mencel said new police officers should be tested on their driving while using the technology.

The study also suggested the League of Minnesota Cities use standardized forms and that insurance adjusters' notes indicate the cause of crashes.

(Copyright 2011 Gannett Co. Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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