Combating distracted driving with new technology

Voice software is the next frontier


By Michael Cayes
Mooring Tech, Inc.

This article is provided by Mooring Tech, Inc. and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of PoliceOne.

Some 75% of police cruisers and 30% of ambulances equip mounted laptops or tablets. These devices are used dozens of times each day to map routes, log data, and communicate with other officials in the area. Directly and indirectly, they save lives every day. If you ask an officer or an EMT, they will tell you that they recognize the potential for distracted driving with so much technology in their work vehicles. Though it is difficult to find statistics on how many emergency vehicles become involved in accidents as a result of distracted driving, stories appear in the news regularly enough to remind us that it’s a problem.

In each state and territory with texting and driving laws, there is a provision that exempts emergency first-responders. There are times when officers and other responders need to share confidential information, or they simply need to communicate with co-workers and want to leave radio lines free. In an ideal world, officers would pull over or into a parking lot to make their calls. They would patrol in pairs so that one officer can handle communication and information sharing while the other officer drives. But for so many cities and counties that are short-staffed and responding to outrageously high call volumes, it is not feasible. The next best thing is to make as many features as possible hands-free, or simple enough to conduct without an officer taking their eyes off the road.

In California, they are moving in this direction in leaps and bounds. “We’ve addressed the [distraction] issue by using policy and equipment to create a safer work environment,” says Officer Leland Tang of the California Highway Patrol (CHP). Tang’s department has integrated many in-car functions with its vehicle computer system. Officers can activate their radios, sirens, and public address systems with specific movements of their right hand on a trackpad; they can complete these functions without even taking their eyes off the road.

The other primary area of experimentation with an eventual goal of integration is in-car tablets and voice command systems. Companies like MooringTech, a leading carrier of Panasonic ToughBooks and ToughPads used all over the country, recognize that voice software is the next frontier. There are hurdles to jump before we see more widespread use of comprehensive voice technology. After all, one of the primary, and very valid, arguments against Bluetooth headsets for on-duty officers is that they are difficult to hear through the standard noise of being in a moving vehicle. So it stands to reason that creating a system that can hear and respond to commands clearly through that same noise will be a challenge. It also stands to reason that the payoff of a solution is more than worth it. The potential for a system that seamlessly gives voice directions and process inquiries can mean fewer accidents.

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