“To Protect and Swerve” is not its title, but a new study suggests tech devices in squad cars pose distractions and contribute to police-involved accidents.

Through the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, Public Safety Administration grad students from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota combed through nearly 380 closed cases from around the state, spanning from 2006 through 2010.

SMU researchers concluded one or more forms of distracted driving (visual, manual or cognitive) played a major factor in about 14% of cop crashes.  In contrast, they cited a nationwide NHTSA study from around the same period that found nearly 18% of civilian wrecks resulted from distraction, according to Fridley Patch.   

Neither gave a definitive figure of how often tech devices qualified as the main distraction, or how often a device was in use at the time of an incident.  SMU found 12% of claims came from incidents where technology was in some way involved.  Half of those claims involved officers’ mobile data computers; i.e. the laptops mounted front and center.

Therein lies part of the problem, according to the study. Mounting positions of the equipment--and not necessarily active use while driving--can be detrimental.

So can absence of truthiness. SMU didn’t extrapolate Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire percentages, but it delicately alleged some officers may have neglected to mention tech device use on their crash reports to avoid disciplinary action.  In turn, that may or may not figure into 48% of the study’s claim files not clearly stating whether distraction by device existed at all.  The study also concedes nearly 50 open cases weren’t included in the data.  Likewise, data was unavailable from many larger police departments.

With that in mind, what can we can take away from the study?  It’s a good start, though more research is needed.  On top of the mental and physical demands most of us don’t face on the job (or behind the wheel), it would seem police are comparatively less distracted while driving with more electronic devices in their squads.