Emergency Vehicle Gadget Overload Will Kill/Save Us All

Cops got laptops, ambu-lance drivers got mobile phones, and now look, they're all running us over and making us dead. This is a concern right now! So should you be outraged and/or scared? Probably not.

The NYT's top tech story today is about the precipitous increase in gadgetry in emergency vehicles, from navigation systems and laptops to plain old mobile phones, which first responders, like everyone else in the world, tend to get distracted by. The anecdotes, as you can imagine, are terrible:

In April 2008, an emergency medical technician in West Nyack, N.Y., looked at his GPS screen, swerved and hit a parked flatbed truck. The crash sheared off the side of the ambulance and left his partner, who was in the passenger seat, paralyzed.

But here's the issue: the NYT establishes very early on that "data does not exist" to support or refute any kind of thesis about whether or not gadgets have made emergency personnel, and by extension us, more or less safe.

And even if there was data - say, that gadgetry caused a 2 per cent increase in crashes involving emergency personnel - we'd be roped into making an impossible calculation: Is this 2 per cent increase, and related uptick in injuries and deaths, worth the injuries and deaths mitigated by faster ambulance drivers are able to navigate now, thanks to their Garmins? Both are hard to quantify on their own, and together, they'd make for a fuzzy equation.

For every story of an ambulance driver running over an old lady because he was distracted by a screensaver, there's a story of an old lady who died because an ambulance driver had to have his partner consult a map instead of a GPS unit, and in the end, they're all anecdotes.

That said, people who drive vehicles with flashing lights: stop playing Peggle, thanks. [NYT—pic via]

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