Crash Risk Increases When Police Are in Emergency Mode

Posted on August 13, 2018

Emergency vehicles are twice as likely to crash while traveling in emergency mode. Driving distractions, traveling at high rates of speed, and other motorists not moving out of the way are partly to blame.

Driving in Emergency Mode

Emergency vehicles such as police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances have increased crash risks when traveling in emergency mode. High speeds, distractions, loud sirens, flashing lights, and driving through traffic signals put drivers and passengers in emergency vehicles at a high risk of accidents and injuries. While emergency vehicles rush to prevent injuries and save lives, they often put their own passengers and other people around them in harms way.

A recent study from the University of Iowa emphasizes the potential dangers and crash risks of emergency vehicles traveling at high speeds. The study shows that police vehicles are twice as likely to crash than other emergency vehicles. Between 2005 and 2013, police cars were involved in 2,406 crashes, compared to 528 crashes involving fire trucks and ambulances. Police officers traveling in emergency mode face a variety of distractions while driving at high speeds. They’re often on police radios and scanners while chasing a crime suspect, rushing to violent assaults, and responding to domestic violence calls. In addition, they must avoid other vehicles on the road while in emergency pursuits.

Although police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances use loud sirens and flashing lights while traveling in emergency mode, many motorists fail to pull over and get out of their way. The Iowa study shows the importance of drivers pulling over for emergency vehicles when they hear sirens. Researchers suggest that moving to the side of the road when emergency vehicles are en route would significantly reduce crashes.

Emergency Vehicle Laws

Emergency vehicles are designated and authorized to respond to any dangerous emergency or life-threatening situation. These vehicles are usually operated by designated agencies that may be part of the government, non-governmental agencies, commercial businesses, and various charities. According to laws, emergency vehicles are permitted to break conventional rules of the road to reach their destinations in the fastest possible time. This often involves driving through red lights and stop signs, driving on the wrong side of the road, and exceeding the designated speed limit.

Motorists are required to yield the right of way to emergency vehicles traveling with their sirens and flashing lights on. These warning devices are intended to alert drivers in the path of emergency vehicles traveling at high speeds. Motorists are required to stop, pull to the side of the road, and wait until emergency vehicles pass. Even in areas where emergency vehicle laws do not exist, many motorists follow the laws as a courtesy. In Illinois, state law requires drivers approaching emergency vehicles traveling in the same direction and displaying flashing lights to slow down to a safe speed and move over to the right. Under Illinois law, towing, recovery, and disabled vehicles are also considered emergency vehicles.

Most states require all emergency vehicles, except police cars, to use sirens and lights when disobeying traffic laws. In Illinois, police cars are permitted to exceed speed limits without sirens and lights. High-speed chases involving police vehicles pose significant risks to police officers in pursuit, as well as the public. High-speed chases commonly exceed designated speed limits posted on surface streets and highways.

Safe Driving for Motorists

Drivers of emergency vehicles are obligated by law to drive as safely as possible with due regard for the safety of all persons and property. When it comes to right-of-way, emergency vehicles trump all other vehicles on the road. When siren are blasting and lights are flashing, right-of-way takes priority over yield signs, stop signs, and green traffic lights. To prevent accidents and injuries, motorists are urged to follow the laws when approaching emergency vehicles:

  • Sirens Approaching from Behind – Motorists should slow down, observe surrounding traffic, and turn on blinkers or hazard lights before moving to the right. Pulling over too fast can cause an accident with another vehicle, cyclist or pedestrian.
  • Sirens Approaching from the Front – When emergency vehicles approach from an oncoming lane, motorists should stop, turn on their hazard lights, and move to the right slowly if possible. Oncoming emergency vehicles often drive on the wrong side of the road, if traffic is slow and heavy.
  • Approaching a Stopped Emergency When approaching a stopped emergency vehicle, motorists should move away from the emergency vehicle, slow down, and pass with extreme caution. Emergency responders are most at risk for injury when vehicles are stopped.