NBC12 Investigates: Distracted driving and emergency vehicles

NBC12 Investigates: Distracted driving and emergency vehicles

CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) - Distracted drivers caused more than 24,000 crashes statewide last year. Including 163 deaths and more than 14,000 injuries, according to the Virginia DMV.

Police officers type on a computer and drive daily. And as we found -- they don't always do it perfectly.

From the NTSB to the CDC the message is clear: keep your eyes on the road. Not the technology inside your car. Unless that car is a police cruiser, an ambulance or a fire truck.

In Virginia Police officers and other emergency responders are exempt from laws that ban the use of mobile devices behind the wheel, as long as they're using them for the job.

"Police work is not an easy job. You have to be able to multi-task," said Lt. Michael O'Neal.

But multi-tasking can lead to crashes. Around the country distracted driving is on the rise. And police are not immune.

We requested records for 4 years of police crashes in our area. All of the police agencies have accident review boards.

In Richmond nearly half, 46%, of all the crashes involving cruisers were found to be "out of policy"... meaning they were preventable.

In Henrico 43% of the 523 police crashes were deemed preventable.

And in Chesterfield the review board there found 40% of the crashes between 2010 and 2013 to be the officer's fault. It's not clear from the data how many of the officer were actually distracted.

We do know in Chesterfield 16% of the crashes involved a deer.

Sgt. David Zehab trains Chesterfield officers each year at the Enon driving facility.

"The technology in the car is fantastic now a days, but it can be a huge distraction," said Sgt. Zehab.

He says in-car distractions are always a focus of the training. In police cars there is a computer, police radio, car radio, siren box and light controls.

"Depending on what type of call you're going on, you might have to use all of these at the same time," he said. "It's great to have it here but those distractions increase the more technology we put in the vehicles."

His number one rule is keep your eyes on the road while the vehicle is moving.

"We actually teach them to close to the top until the vehicle has come to a stop," Zehab explained.

The goal is to make sure the officers don't create a problem, trying to get to one.

And consider this, officers drive way more than you or I do. So they are racking up a lot more time on the road. Which means their odds of a crash are a little higher.

Copyright 2015 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved