Bryan Vila
Bryan Vila

Even distractions that are “far less demanding” than police vehicle equipment increase the risk of an officer getting into a traffic collision by more than double, according to early findings of a performance study.

“It seems clear that looking at a data terminal and making decisions about what’s going on there and driving at 55 miles an hour on a straight road still significantly degrades driver performance,” said the study’s principal investigator Bryan Vila, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy and now a professor of criminology at WSU Spokane.

Law enforcement officers were asked to drive a simulated police sedan at a rate of 55 miles an hour, while staying in their own lanes and remaining no more than 100 feet behind a red Chevy. At random intervals, the Chevy would slam on its brakes and the officer would have to try to avoid a collision. In the second segment, officers were asked to drive and complete a simple reading task intended to simulate the use of a patrol car computer.

The extensive laboratory study was funded by California’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training and the Office of Naval Research. Vila, a principal at WSU’s Sleep and Performance Research Center, is now analyzing his team’s findings.

Find out more about the distracted driver study