The City of Portland is scheduled, this week, to pay out $338,477 as part of the settlement of a lawsuit filed by an 80-year-old woman struck by a police car while crossing the street. According to an article in The Oregonian, the accident took place when the officer driving the patrol car looked away from the road to check his onboard mobile computer for messages from the police dispatcher.
The accident is a reminder of one of the loopholes in the much-talked-about Oregon distracted driving law, which went into effect nearly a year ago: the blanket exemption for on-duty law enforcement and public safety personnel. Obviously police, firefighters, EMTs and other people who protect our lives deserve our respect and support. Equally obviously, their use of computers and other on-board electronic equipment designed to help them do their jobs is a far cry from a commuter texting in downtown traffic.
That said, the suit the city has just settled is a reminder that the on-board computers that are now standard in police cars and other public service vehicles are far more complex – and potentially far more distracting – than the hand-held two-way radios of old. As The Oregonian rightly notes, “The case points to a growing tension: While police are expected to use increasing technology in the field t obtain information quicker, the distractions also have the potential to cause accidents.”
As the newspaper notes, Oregon is not the only state grappling with this issue. Similar cases have cropped up all over the country. According to the paper, Oregon’s police academy does not offer specific training “on how to use the mobile data computers in patrol cars”. We can only hope that this case will, at the very least, lead to some reconsideration of that policy.
In the meantime, citizens who believe a police officer may have acted recklessly in his or her use of a mobile computer should consult with a Portland personal injury attorney to help determine the best way to see that justice is done, even as the police continue their important task of keeping all of us safe.