If police officers seemed a little more efficient at pulling over traffic violators this holiday season, it could have been courtesy of the ergonomics advances of new “smart” police cars.
Officers in a handful of states are now taking to the streets in these prototypical cars that work to make the officers’ jobs simpler through voice recognition technology, global positioning systems and a redistribution of key buttons.
In New Hampshire alone, where over 75 state police cars are equipped with voice recognition technology that lets an officer bark a command like “pursuit” to turn on lights, sirens and video camera in the cruiser while also alerting dispatch, testing on the vehicles has been taking place over the last two years.
The New Hampshire project, deemed “Project 54” in honor of the 50s television show “Car 54, Where Are You?”, came about as an indirect result of a fatal traffic accident in 1997. The project’s lead engineer, University of New Hampshire professor William Lenharth, had a chance to sit in the front seat of a former cruiser packed with equipment and watch an officer feel around for the right buttons and equipment. Lenharth and team immediately saw room for improvement.
Before the smart cars, the task of pulling over a traffic violator wasn’t so simple. “To pull you over for doing one thing, they have to do 12 different things. They have to turn the lights on, turn the siren on, figure out where they are, pick up the radio, turn on the video camera, radio in that they are pulling someone over,” project engineer Brett Vinciguerra told the Associated Press in 2003. But for officers who are using Project 54 cars, the task of pulling over a suspect or a traffic violator is now as simple as giving a quick command or offering up the license plate number. Responses are received faster courtesy of on-board computers rather than waiting for dispatch to do the background checks. And in traffic situations, the officer can keep his or her hands on the wheel and eyes on the road while still executing commands and staying in contact with dispatch, other officers or police agencies.
Currently, New Hampshire is the only state using cars from Project 54, but a similar system developed by Visteon is being tested in North Carolina, California, Maryland and Michigan.