Special Report: Legal Distractions - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Special Report: Legal Distractions

More laws have been put in place to combat tragedies caused by texting and driving, but it's those who enforce those same laws who are exempt from them all together. (Source: WALB) More laws have been put in place to combat tragedies caused by texting and driving, but it's those who enforce those same laws who are exempt from them all together. (Source: WALB)
Dougherty County Police Sergeant Sharif Akeem Fulcher spends a majority of his day behind the wheel. (Source: WALB) Dougherty County Police Sergeant Sharif Akeem Fulcher spends a majority of his day behind the wheel. (Source: WALB)
With radios, computers, and other gadgets overloading his patrol car, it's easy to be distracted, which could lead to potential accidents. (Source: WALB) With radios, computers, and other gadgets overloading his patrol car, it's easy to be distracted, which could lead to potential accidents. (Source: WALB)
Companies are now working with law enforcement agencies across the country to incorporate more hands-free devices and laptops that shut down when the car is in motion. (Source: WALB) Companies are now working with law enforcement agencies across the country to incorporate more hands-free devices and laptops that shut down when the car is in motion. (Source: WALB)
ALBANY, GA (WALB) -

Distracted driving has become a serious and deadly problem across America.

According to Distraction.gov, the U.S. Government's official website for distracted driving, 3,154 people were killed in car crashes involving distracted drivers in 2013.

The government website added that five seconds is the average time a driver takes his or her eyes off the road while texting. In that time, the driver could travel the length of a football field if the driver is traveling at 55 miles per hour.

More laws have been put in place to combat tragedies caused by texting and driving, but it's those who enforce those same laws who are exempt from them all together.

Georgia law states that it is illegal for all drivers to text behind the wheel. All drivers 18 years or older are prohibited from using a wireless telecommunications device to write, send, or read a text, email, or internet data.

But what might surprise you is that that law does not apply to police officers and other emergency personnel.

Law enforcement officers are exempt from this law, while performing his or her duties.

But with more technology behind the wheel of patrol cars, officers admit they have more distractions than ever.

Dougherty County Police Sergeant Sharif Akeem Fulcher spends a majority of his day behind the wheel.

With radios, computers, and other gadgets overloading his patrol car, it's easy to be distracted, which could lead to potential accidents.

"We can't help anyone if we don't arrive," said Sergeant Fulcher.  "We have to arrive alive.  If not, who knows what will happen."

Sergeant Fulcher defines distracted driving as any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving.

"Everything from a mother with a child in the backseat crying, or anything in the vehicle that can take your eyes off the road," he said. "And a couple of seconds can cause an accident."

He added, while officers and emergency personnel are exempt from distracted driving laws, such as the texting ban behind the wheel, that doesn't mean they're invincible.

Georgia Public Safety Training Center's Lieutenant Greg Dorris admits life-saving technology may also create more work for officers.

"Technology has given us some great tools to combat crime and communicate more effectively," said Lieutenant Dorris. "And we want to use that technology, but we have to use it wisely."

Sergeant Fulcher said he stresses the use of good judgment to his officers, especially when it comes to handling technology in patrol cars.

The computers installed in Dougherty county police patrol cars show every call that comes in on a screen, even while the car is in motion.

"I realized at some point, 'Hey this stuff can be dangerous if you're not consistently paying attention and realizing hey, let me get somewhere where I can operate this text or this computer safely,'" said Sergeant Fulcher. "Or I won't make it to where I'm trying to go."

Police are asked to multitask, sometimes handling too many things at once. So Sergeant Fulcher tries to simplify the task at hand, as a strategy to prevent the worst from happening.

He said a majority of the information officers gather on the computer in the patrol cars can also be communicated through the radio.  He added that talking on the radio can be less distracting than reading the report on the computer.

And juggling communication on the radio while pursuing a suspect or responding to a call may be one of the most common instances of officers facing distractions behind the wheel.

But Sergeant Fulcher said these are duties synonymous with their role as public servants.

"We are here to help you guys.  So depending on if I'm riding down the road and I need to talk on the radio to figure out who's trying to harm you or who's trying to break into your house, I feel like that's enough justification," said Sergeant Fulcher.

So while other drivers may see this technology as a distraction, officers said it also keeps you safe. It's about weighing the risks over rewards.

"As long as we are consistently using due regard, we all have accidents, we all make mistakes, law enforcement are not exempt from that. But we do our best," said Sergeant Fulcher.

He said the only way to ensure officers are performing their duties in the best interest of themselves and other drivers on the roads is to ensure each department has a strict policy in place.

He tells his officers to pull over before operating on their computers, and to avoid texting and driving while on duty.

Companies are now working with law enforcement agencies across the country to incorporate more hands-free devices and laptops that shut down when the car is in motion.

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