LASD curbs deputy in-car computer use after tragedy

CHP officer Leland Tang shows how the CHP uses heads up technology to help officers keep their eyes on the road at all times.

CHP officer Leland Tang shows how the CHP uses heads up technology to help officers keep their eyes on the road at all times.

By Brenda Gazzar, Staff Writer

In an effort to reduce distracted driving, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials have implemented a new policy that significantly curbs the use of in-car computers, authorities said.

The policy, which was formalized late last month, contains the department’s first explicit restrictions on such devices and comes a little more than a year after sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Wood fatally struck cyclist Milton Olin Jr. on Mulholland Highway in Calabasas while typing on his in-car computer.

While stopping short of banning all in-car computer use, the new policy of the country’s largest sheriff’s agency requires that radios be used as “the primary tool of communication” while vehicles are moving and eliminates the use of in-car computers for administrative tasks.

“The significance is to reduce the danger to the public, predominantly, and the danger to our own deputies that are posed by distracted driving and distracting devices,” said Sgt. Albert Schauberger, corrective actions sergeant at the department’s risk management bureau.

Employees cannot use their computer while driving a county vehicle unless the communication is urgent or necessary for officer safety and radio traffic prevents its timely transmission or unless it’s to hit one button to send status updates such as “en-route” or “acknowledge,” according to the new policy.

The in-car computer should be used as a last resort, such as when a deputy is facing an emergency and there’s another serious incident already being broadcast on the radio channel, and not out of convenience since it’s more distracting than a radio, Schauberger said.

“If there’s no other means to communicate and in case of emergency, then (the in-car computer) should be used because it’s all you have left,” he said.

In addition, personnel cannot use their mobile digital computers for administrative tasks, such as clearing calls, updating logs, typing, sending or reading administrative or nonurgent messages while driving, the policy states.

However, a union leader argues that the new policy leaves deputies who are trying to carry out their duties unduly vulnerable to discipline.

Read more in Brenda Gazzar’s story DISTRACTED.

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