The Big Squeeze in Police Vehicles : More Equipment, Less Space
July 2008, Government Fleet - Feature
More equipment in law enforcement vehicles can mean less room for officers. However, today’s OEMs, suppliers, and vehicle component vendors and engineers have developed strategies to reduce the negative ergonomic and other impacts on officers.
Manufacturers of public safety and law enforcement vehicles have provided detailed information regarding the airbag deployment zone in their specific models over the past several years. The information has included recommended "safe zones" for installing mobile communications equipment, but those dimensions can vary greatly with each vehicle.
Any combination of installation hardware and mobile communication equipment not installed and positioned properly within the vehicle manufacturer’s suggested dimensional parameters could potentially interfere with airbag deployment.
Some prototypical, ergonomically-friendly, "smart" law enforcement vehicles make the officers’ jobs simpler through voice recognition technology, global positioning systems (GPS), and a redistribution of key switches.
In New Hampshire, for example, more than 75 state police cars are equipped with voice recognition technology. An officer barks a command, such as "pursuit," to turn on lights, sirens, and video camera in the cruiser while also alerting dispatch. The vehicles have been tested over the past two years.
Developing Hands-Off & Eyes-Off Systems
The CATlab project, informally named "Project 54," is a collaborative research and development effort between the University of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Department of Safety and is supported by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Developed eight years ago, Project 54 has included working on advanced hands-free and ergonomically friendly vehicle technologies for the New Hampshire state police and other law enforcement agencies.
Currently, more than 100 agencies and 1,000 vehicles nationwide have used Project 54 technologies in police vehicles. The majority of these agencies are in the state of New Hampshire, said Project 54 Co-founder and Director of the University of New Hampshire’s Research Computing Center William Lenharth, Ph.D.
"The project really is focused on officer safety and involves integration of all equipment officers are asked to use in their vehicles," Lenharth said. "To have a truly safe system, it must be hands- and eyes-off so officers can pay attention to the road while still completing their necessary duties."
Project 54 is largely a voice-only system designed to be low-cost and to adhere to a variety of standardized projects. Law enforcement agencies no longer depend on proprietary equipment from a small group of companies at higher prices, Lenharth said. Project 54 technology is also designed to keep an officer’s hands, arms, elbows, shoulders, neck, and head in a comfortable position with little or no extra movement while performing duties.
"The system is very customizable because every agency works differently," Lenharth said. "The voice commands an agency can use are simple ASCII commands that can be defined by the department itself."
Two years ago, Lenharth and researchers at the University of New Hampshire created a driving simulator that proved officer safety increased by well over 50 percent when using the Project 54 system compared with standard police vehicle setups. That system is also being used in SUVs, ATVs, motorcycles, and boats operated by law enforcement agencies.
Officers can use voice, touch, keyboard, or manual controls with the CATlab project. The system can also be operated without using radio communications.
One common use of the system is running license plate checks while an officer is driving. Officers can use a short series of voice commands to run a query and check records without typing anything on a keyboard, taking their hands off the wheel, or moving their bodies in any way.
"We have done everything we can to help officers keep their eyes on the road, hands on the wheel, and still be productive," Lenharth said. "Ergonomic principles are inherent with every part of this system."