Emergency Vehicles at High Risk for Crashes

By Maria Elliott
Jambar Contributor 

A 2015 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration report said an average of 1,500 ambulance crashes per year result in injuries.  

Susan Kearns, the program director for Emergency Medical Services at Youngstown State University, said a number of problems can arise when an ambulance crashes.  

She said ambulance crashes can cause a delay in patient care and a shortage in resources if emergency responders must come to the scene of the crash.

“There’s a serious shortage of ambulances and EMTs, so you’re stressing the system incredibly by asking EMS responders to respond to the scene of an ambulance crash,” Kearns said.

A 2019 Ohio Department of Public Safety report showed that the highest rate of ambulance crashes occurs in the afternoon or early evening during high traffic times.

This could contradict the idea that emergency vehicle crashes are primarily caused by sleep deprivation, according to Kearns.

She said if an ambulance driver chooses to transport a patient with lights and sirens, the risk of an accident will immediately increase for those on the road because drivers are trying to get out of the way.

Those at YSU could be at a greater risk for emergency vehicle crashes, according to Kearns, because the Mercy Health hospital system and the Youngstown Fire Department are both close to campus.

Although there are not many ambulance companies based in Youngstown, ambulances will post near campus to be available for calls within the city.

“We have a lot of foot traffic here at YSU,” Kearns said.

She said if students walking around campus are listening to music with earbuds, they may not realize that an emergency vehicle is approaching.

Frank Dispenza, a professor in the EMS program, said responding to emergency scenes is one of the most dangerous parts of being an emergency medical technician. 

“We encounter many distracted drivers who do not yield right of way to emergency vehicles because they are not even aware that the vehicles are there,” he said.

Dispenza said that EMTs are equipped to provide “life support and treatment” to patients until they can be transported to the hospital where they can receive “definitive care.” Definitive care refers to the more detailed diagnosis and treatment of a health problem.

“No one who is sick or injured likes to wait for help,” he said.

Ambulances are not the only type of emergency vehicle at risk for a crash.

YFD Chief Barry Finley said said he has seen many fire truck accidents in his 26 years with the fire department.

He said emergency responders in the fire department have more trouble navigating the freeway when responding to calls. Cars on the freeway scramble to try to get out of the way of the fire truck and can instead end up passing in front of the emergency vehicle.

“Every time any emergency vehicle turns on the lights and sirens, they increase their chances of having a motor vehicle accident,” Finley said.

Finley also said that distracted driving and listening to loud music are contributing factors to emergency vehicle crashes because drivers may not be aware that the vehicle is trying to get by.

Finley, Kearns and Dispenza agreed that those around campus should immediately pull to the right side of the road when they see or hear an emergency vehicle with its siren and lights on. 

Finley added if drivers don’t have space to move, they should just stay where they are and allow the emergency vehicle to move around them if possible.

He said drivers should heed to emergency vehicles’ lights and sirens and “allow them safe passage to the emergency scene that they are responding to.”