Drivers who ignore emergency vehicles put lives in danger

I got a first-hand look this week at how often drivers ignore the lights and sirens of an emergency vehicle when I followed a Floyd County Rescue Squad ambulance on Floyd and Montgomery County roads as they rushed my mother to the hospital after she fell at her home.

With lights flashing and siren wailing, the rescue squad unit was forced to brake quickly numerous times when drivers failed to pull off the road and let us pass. I followed behind on my motorcycle, emergency flashers going full time, and also had to break and swerve, often when cars tried to pull back on the road immediately after the ambulance passed and without looking to see if other traffic was following.

At times, our speeds on U.S. 221 and Rte. 8 went from 70 miles per hour to 35 in a matter of seconds because drivers talking on their cell phones or driving with the radio blaring at ear-splitting decibels tooled along oblivious to the siren and lights in their rear-view mirror.

One car that finally pulled off and let us pass had a bass woofer so loud in his car that it drowned out the sound of my Harley’s exhaust when we passed.

Rescue squad professionals and volunteers tell me this happens all they time when they are on lifesaving runs. Drivers ignore their lights and sirens or are so wrapped up in distracting activities that have nothing to do with the act of driving a vehicle on a public road.

When seconds count, any delay can mean the difference between life and death. When a car delays an emergency vehicle on a public road that distracted, disinterested and just plain dumb and stupid driver could be contributing to someone’s death.

I have a good memory when it comes to cars, faces and license plates. Had my mother died on the way to the hospital, I would have been looking for 11 incredibly stupid and dangerous drivers.

Wake up people. Put away the cell phones, turn down the radio and get the hell out of the way. Your stupidity could kill someone.

15 COMMENTS

  1. I’ve had a few times when I’ve been on rural 2-lane roads with narrow or no shoulders and not been able to physically pull off the road without going in a ditch, and I’ve had to wait to find an adequate place to pull over, but otherwise I move over immediately. I always feel bad if I have to take a few extra seconds to safely move over…I wish the roads were built wider to better facilitate safe maneuvers for those times.

  2. I’m always amazed at how people refuse to get out of the way of emergency vehicles. Even with lights flashing and sirens wailing, people seem to be completely ambivilent or at least too preoccupied to defer to the needs of the emergency vehicle(s) involved. I see it all the time in here in Christiansburg. I often wonder how their perception would change if it were their own family member in the ambulance…

    I recall an incident when I served on a local volunteer fire department. I was directing traffic, in full turnout gear, on a narrow country road following a one-vehicle car crash. Even with a line of flares and a few orange cones, as well as the flashing lights of our lead pumper truck, I was nearly run over by a seemingly unconcerned motorist who just sped through the accident site. She never even tapped her brakes. I’m not sure if people realize the danger in which they put emergency personnel by not paying attention to the situation.

  3. Doug, I hope your mother is recovering and send my prayers and best wishes your way.
    I am a volunteer on one of the fire departments in the county. Just a few words of advice to drivers when a emergency vehicle is approaching a driver. First, do not panic and slam on the brakes. Second, don’t stop in the road unless there is enough room and sight distance for the emergency vehicle to pass. The biggest problem that I have had while I have been driving is when people stop, blocking the road in a blind curve or hill. Third, if there isn’t a good place to get out of the way continue driving until you find a place that is safe for everyone.

  4. I wish to extend my sympathies to you and your family, and if you need anything, just let me know.

    There are moronic drivers everywhere, not just in Floyd. There are many of us that have to deal with inept drivers that do not pay attention, or just dont care. For some reason, people feel the need to slam on their brakes when an emergency vehicle is approaching.

    I always preferred the “bump ’em twice and pass’m when they get squirrelly” approach, but the county frowns upon that in an emergency vehicle.

  5. Doug, I couldn’t agree with you more. I took the liberty of copying and pasting your article to my site. I want everybody to read this.
    Give your mother my regards and let me know what I can do to help.

    Jim Connor

  6. >>Your stupidity could kill someone.<<

    Or maybe you should flip it around in a karmic sort of way too: "Somebody else's stupidity might someday kill *you*".

  7. Good suggestions, Lauren. Perhaps you ought to collaborate with Doug to write a feature/safety article for the Floyd Press (and/or print media) othersharing your advice with the broader public. With Doug’s recent personal experience and your emergency training, you could create a compelling piece. Maybe a big part of this issue is simply ignorance…some folks just don’t know what to do when an emergency vehicle comes up quickly from behind them.

    Best wishes to your mom, Doug…

  8. When i drove an ambulance as an EMT in a rural Virginia county some 20 years ago, we ALWAYS advised family members who wanted to accompany their loved ones to the hospital, to go AHEAD of us (in non-emergency situations), or wait 10-15 minutes AFTER we left the scene so that there was reduced danger on the road to those folks and us as well. We told them to take their time. Loved ones speeding to the hospital wasn’t going to make any difference to the patient’s condition. Also, if I am not mistaken, it is illegal to follow an emergency vehicle closer than 500 feet whenever the vehicle is displaying lights or siren.

    Best advice here is: don’t chase any emergency vehicle EVER. Take your time getting to the hospital and everyone involved will be safer.

    As far as the other drivers on the road are concerned, I have also seen just about everything imaginable with folks either ignoring lights & siren or panicking and dead-stopping in their tracks….

    Thanks for the heads up Doug!

    • I’m glad you mentioned something less dramatic than Doug’s personal anxiety. First and foremost I hope his Mom is OK. If seconds count, maybe the public roads aren’t the best path.

      I question the policy and proceedure as it relates to the environment. You can’t call everyone a dumbass or inattentive when the options are limited. I believe public safety is as important as the mission of EMT or law enforcement. Breaking news, it’s not a closed course so I don’t really care how trained the staff of drivers is with or without flashing lights and blaring sirens.

      It’s hard to deny Doug’s account, which should be discouraged as normal behaviour for friends and family. I’ll go further and question the idea that exceeding the speed limit followed by hard braking is anything less than reckeless driving. The problems are amplified by this hero attitude. Getting there safely is equally important to getting there quickly. It’s not a closed road course where drivers compete for the best time.

      Already mentioned, there isn’t always a place or opportunity to get out of the way. I would maintain a safe speed until there was one, or slow down slightly as we both saw it was safe for a double yellow line pass.

      In simple terms, the rules of the road apply to ALL, and that might keep us safer and not needing to call another rescue squad to pick up a biker on a mission or someone not expecting an ambulance chaser.

      • Interesting how this has turned from a discussion about drivers who ignored sirens and flashing lights of an emergency vehicle to one of whether or not I should have followed the ambulance to the hospital.

        As a disinterested observer, I can — and would — agree that the prudent action would be to go ahead or follow at a discreet distance within the speed limit. But on that morning I did not know if my mother would arrive at the hospital alive. Her situation was critical and I was going to be a close as I could to her in such a time. Call it stupid if you want but I would do it again and I would have accepted the ticket and paid the fine without question or remorse had some trooper seen fit to issue one. I’m a son whose mother’s life was in danger and there was no way I was going to let that ambulance out of my sight. I’ve lost too many loved ones in my life and — on too many occasions — I was somewhere else when they died. It was not going to happen in this case.

  9. 70 miles an hour on rte.8 in an ambulance? A corvette maybe (still illegal) but an ambulance? I say that driving an emergency response vehicle that fast is very dangerous to everyone on the road. That stretch of road is not made for those speeds and as mentioned does not leave “outs” for drivers to get out of the way.

    Yes, people do fail to pull over,give you the finger, curse at you, talk on the phone and more! 20 years of career time responding to emergency calls allows a certain amount of perspective and I would say that I am glad your mom made it to the hospital (hopefully she is doing well) and I am glad you made it too.

    • Scott, there are straight stretches of U.S. 221 and Rte. 8 where such speeds are easily possible in almost any vehicle. I’ve seen ticked issued for more than 80 or 90 on Rte. 8 and drove that road even faster than that in a ’57 Ford in high school. Yes, it was stupid to do so as a teenager. It was obvious from my vantage point that the driver of the ambulance was in full control at all times and at all speeds.

  10. I am glad your mother is safe now, however your illegal stunt of following the ambulance could have caused more accidents. You are not an emergency vehicle and your flashers are not emergency lights. I understand your concern for your mother, but your reckless driving and illegal following of the ambulance was just plain stupid. Those motorist owe you nothing. You are not an emergency vehicle.

    • Mike:

      As a rational person, I would agree. As a son whose mother was near death after falling in her home, I would do the same thing again and I suspect most of us would do so as well. There was no way I was going to let that ambulance out of my sight. A driver pulled off the road owes every vehicle on the road — emergency unit or not — the right of way before entering traffic again. When I pull off the road for an emergency vehicle I also check to see if any traffic is following before pulling back onto the road. Doing otherwise would be just as illegal as the “stunt” who say I pulled.

      • I’m as sympathetic as anyone to your current events. I disagree that your emotional connection and irrational behaviour should get a pass. As I mentioned before, it is situational. You are suggesting that a driver pulled over and then somehow intentionally pulled back onto the road, causing you to take evasive action. I don’t know of any drivers that are looking for an accident to happen. It’s not hard to imagine how you could have been invisible behind the Squad.

        You made your point, everyone should pay attention. This is a great idea with or without dramatic emergency vehicles. It seems as if I rarely have a trip on these country roads without seeing myself in a head on collision. I’ve already been t-boned at a blind curve near the Pilot Post office. Several times I’ve encountered drivers entirely in my lane coming in the opposite direction. If I happen to survive the next crash without some serious head trauma, I will be the one to say, “Yes, I saw it coming, just like the other times when it almost happened.”

        You have strong opinions, I simply offered another point of view. I have a different philosophy. Attend people’s lives rather than ignore them and show up at the funeral. Your story ( this and the Carillion one) is not uncommon and is as much a family issue as it is a system malfunction. Good luck sorting it out.

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