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Ambulances: Life Savers or Road Hazards?

Last year, Slate.com published an article about ambulance safety and whether or not ambulance speed is dangerous or a lifesaver.

Ever since I was young, I’ve always wondered why the ambulances I see on the road don’t drive as fast as their truck will go to reach the emergency situation, but after reading this article, I’ve come to realize that a speeding ambulance may not be as useful as I first thought.

In a past issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine, editors proclaimed that “routine lights-and-sirens transport for trauma patients…may not be warranted” largely in part because of the dangers speeding ambulances.

While flashing lights and loud sirens may alert drivers that an emergency vehicle is nearby, an ambulance going too fast may not be able to avoid hitting a driver that is slow to react to the warning signals. Another risk associated with speeding ambulances is when drivers swerve out of their path and cause another crash with a nearby car or pedestrian.

According to an article on EMSresponder.com, external conditions are more important in determining the outcome of certain emergency situations than the speed of the ambulance. For example, in the case of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, loud sirens and flashing lights may actually complicate rescue efforts. Because of this complication, some ambulances in Texas will no longer run with their lights flashing and sirens blaring. On the other hand, in certain circumstances such as a heart attack or stroke, every second counts and flashing lights may be the factor that determines life or death.

Although it would be irresponsible to suggest ambulances should not attempt to bring their patients to the hospital as fast as possible, this article posed an interesting question: Do you think ambulances should slow down to keep other drivers on the road safer?

Several stories have been written to support both sides of the debate. According to reports, Princess Diana’s ambulances took over 40 minutes to arrive at the hospital because they were instructed to drive slowly to avoid injuring the patient further by bumps on the road. On the other hand, there are dozens of stories every year of fatal accidents involving a speeding ambulance on other drivers or pedestrians.

As this question continues to be debated, remember that as a driver, you should always pull over to the side of the road as soon as you hear a siren or see those flashing lights. Even if you can’t see the ambulance yet, remember that the emergency vehicle is on a race with time and you should never try to outrun it.