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Research into Ambulance Crashes May Hold a Key to Prevention

Posted by Scott Millen on Feb 28, 2017 10:22:18 AM

"The delivery of emergency medical services (EMS) is a key functional activity within the safety infrastructure of modern civilization. Responding to emergency incidents and the subsequent transport of injured victims to hospitals and similar health care facilities involve inherent risks. Of particular interest is motor vehicle crashes involving ambulances used for EMS. Understanding the magnitude and severity of this risk is essential to addressing the overall problem and formulating the necessary policy to address the problem." ~ Analysis of Ambulance Crash Data   DOWNLOAD REPORT



Emergency Service Personnel are four times more likely to be involved in a crash, -higher than law enforcement and first responders. Using press reports only, a research team from the Critical Illness & Trauma Foundation and the Western Transportation Institute published their findings in Emergency Medicine International, capturing data from press reports provided on a dedicated site: EMSNetwork.

In the 466 crashes the organization analyzed, 139 cases noted whether their sirens were on. Of that 139, 111 (80%)  had emergency warning devices (lights or lights and sirens) operating at the time of the crash. 

Of crashes, 382 (82%) occured in an urban environment, 84 (18%) respectively were in rural locations. Initial findings showed user error as a result in some crashes:

  • Inadequate screening of vehicle operators
  • Inadequate vehicle operator training
  • Fatigue and distraction
  • Poor knowledge of driving laws
  • Poor vehicle design
  • Inadequate policies and procedures

Time of Day

While not all crashes included the time of day in the press report, the following was true based on the limited data available.

  • 67 crashes occurred between 00:00 to 5:59
  • 85 crashes between 06:00 and 11:59
  • 100 crashes occurred between 12:00 and 17:59,
  • 68 crashes happened between 18:00 and 23:59.


Road Conditions

Only 51 (11%) of 466 total collisions analyzed in the study cited road conditions: 

  • 14 rain
  • 6 fog
  • 10 slippery
  • 1 whiteout/blizzard
  • 6 wet and icy
  • 13 ice and snow

Nature of the Ambulance Operation

  • Patient on board was in 340 (73% of 466 total) of the cases
  • Returning from a call in 25 (12%)

  • Neither responding nor returning from a call in 44 (21%) - use of the ambulance for routine matters

  • Responding to an emergency in 145 (68%)

  • The nature of the ambulance operation at the time of the crash was noted in 214 accounts.

Patient Transport

  • In 178 (52%) of the cases no patient was on board at the time of the incident

  • The remainder 162 (48%) were transporting one or more patients at the time of the crash.


Driver Error

  • 150 (32%) were cited for striking another vehicle or object

  • 209 (45%) of crashes were struck by anotheWhere such information was known. 

  • Many of these crashes involved more than one, but an unquantifiable, number of vehicles.

  • In 29 cases (6% of 466 total), the ambulance operator was found to be at fault and/or issued a citation for the crash.

  • In 7 cases (2%), the ambulance operator was noted to have been over the legal limit for alcohol use.

  • In 39 (8%) of the crashes, the driver of another vehicle involved in the crash was reported as cited for DUI.


Of the 466 total, Intersections were the most common location for collisions: 

  • 196 (42%) crashes occured at an intersection

  • In 27 (14%) of the 196 intersection crashes, the ambulance rolled either onto its side or top.


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