WEST PALM BEACH, FL -- The accident itself happened Monday in Jacksonville.
Officer Amanda Meyer, reading her in-car laptop computer, slammed into the back of an empty gas tanker that had stopped at a railroad crossing.
Fortunately, Meyer wasn't badly hurt, but it raises the question of whether modern-day police officers' technological tasks can become overwhelming.
"At times it is," says Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy Sean Devriend.
Devriend admits he and colleagues feel a bit like "robo-cops" sometimes, with their computers, cell phones, two-way radios and scanners all operating at once.
How can they possibly focus on the road?
"You know, we're adults," he says. "We've gotta know when enough is enough and when we have to pull over to the side and address the issues we have to, whether it's the radio, the laptop, or the computer."
As law-enforcement officers, deputy Devriend says they're trained to multi-task and keep their priorities straight behind the wheel.
It also helps to have computers that don't always require you to break your concentration. Software enables them to punch in a license plate, for example, and the response comes in the form of a computerized voice much like a turn-by-turn GPS.
"It speaks to us so we don't have to look away from the roadway," he says.
It's not just law enforcement. Stand at any busy intersection in our area and you'll quickly see how prevalent the distraction problem is.
Deputy Devriend says he's seen it all. People sipping hot coffee while driving. Putting on make-up. Reading the paper. Even trying to get the kids dressed for school.
At one corner in downtown West Palm Beach, we stood for just a few minutes, spotting driver after driver talking or texting on their cell phone.
Throw in other consumer concentration-breakers like DVD systems and GPS devices and it's not hard to see why accidents happen.
Eighty percent of collisions, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, involve driver distraction.
"It's bound to happen," says J.R. Wigfall, an accident investigator with the Florida Highway Patrol, "Unfortunately it's the law of physics. It's bound to happen."
Wigfall says drivers should never text behind the wheel, and cell phone calls should be short. Drivers, he says, should pull off the road for longer conversations.
Wigfall says it's far less likely for a police officer to get involved in a distraction-related accident versus the general public because officers receive training that make the one involving officer Meyer a rarity.
FHP actually has a written policy when it comes to laptop usage.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office does not, but encourages deputies to rely on their training and common sense.
In Jacksonville, where the accident took place, they too have no written policy, but are now considering it.
Copyright 2009 The E.W. Scripps Co. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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