The precise number of officers injured in such accidents is unknown, but Dave Long, an air-bag safety consultant with North Memorial Medical Center near Minneapolis, said he has collected information on at least 20 cases.
"Most cops are not willing to give out information about this," said Long
."It's not something you're really proud of.They don't want to say they busted a $2,000 computer, got an officer hurt, and stuff was whooshing through the air."
, who works with police, fire and rescue units, said he
informally surveyed official vehicles at a highway safety conference last summer.About one-third of more than 300 vehicles in the parking lot had gear installed in front of the passenger-side air bag.
Police and fire departments have two options to avoid problems: They can make sure that any accessories are installed out of the way of the air bag by following instructions issued by manufacturers, or they can have a switch installed to turn off the passenger-side air bag.Neither solution is considered ideal.
The center console of most cruisers is safe from an air-bag deployment, but it simply does not offer a lot of space for mounting equipment.
"By the time you add six electronic items, it gets very narrow," Long
In the future, police cars may come with most of their equipment built in.After all, manufacturers are installing video systems and navigational computers on their high-end models for consumers.
For now, the proliferation of added-on electronic gear probably will continue, particularly with increased anti-terrorism funding to better equip first responders.