Slow Progress in EMS Safety and Vehicle Design

Accidents involving ambulances are a significant concern in the United States. Vehicle fatality rates for emergency responders are estimated to be up to 4.8 times higher than the national average. Most emergency vehicle accidents occur at intersections or near driveways. They are also more likely to occur in poorly lit areas. Because emergency vehicles are heavy, built on commercial chassis and involve patient care compartments which are relatively less structurally sound than what they are mounted to, accidents often result in severe injury or death to occupants of the emergency vehicle or the passenger vehicle involved.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a report in April of 2014 that provides an overview of the number of ambulance accidents in the United States. The agency studied the number of ambulance accidents over a 20 year period from 1992-2011.

  • Over the 20 year period, there were an estimated 4,500 accidents involving ambulances each year.
  • 35% of accidents resulted in injury or fatality to at least 1 occupant of a vehicle involved.
  • An average of 29 fatal ambulance accidents produced 33 fatalities each year.
  • On average, 2,600 people are injured in 1,500 ambulance accidents each year.
  • Of those killed in an ambulance accident, 63% were occupants of a passenger vehicle, 21% were passengers in the ambulance, 4% were the ambulance driver, and 12% were non-occupants.
  • Nearly 60% of ambulance accidents occur during the course of emergency use.

Nadine Levick, MD, MPH is an Emergency Medicine physician with a public health degree from John Hopkins University in Injury Control and Health Policy and Management.   She has published lead interdisciplinary scientific papers globally on EMS safety.  Dr. Levick chairs the EMS Transport Safety Subcommittee ANB10(5) of the National Academies Transportation Research Board (TRB).  Her January 2016 report to the TRB EMS Subcommittee concluded:

Ambulances are the most lethal vehicle on the road both per mile traveled and per vehicle
• EMS vehicles are exempt from federal commercial fleet safety oversight (FMCSA)
• Two-thirds of ambulance-involved fatalities did not occur in the ambulance itself
• More than half injuries of injuries in an ambulance-involved incident are not in the ambulance

Most interestingly, did you know:  In the USA there are more safety standards for moving cattle than for moving patients in an ambulance!

We take safety seriously.  Putnam County Operation Life utilizes GeoTab for tracking and capturing data on all of our vehicles, to include:  ambulance speed vs. posted speed limit, G-forces from acceleration & braking, ambulance location and even maintenance warnings from the electronic control module.  It is not meant to be used for punishment:  GeoTab allows Operation Life to passively enforce proven rules that immediately coach drivers to improve their driving habits, creating a safer driving environment and reducing the potential for ambulance accidents to occur.  Geotab is about managing and enforcing existing safe driving policies, by playing an audible alert buzzer. Immediate feedback improves safe driving practices as drivers can then take corrective actions as events occur in the vehicle.

Learn more about ambulance safety initiatives under way in the United States and Canada: