Categories: Ambulance

Beat The Red Light & Speeding: Can Ambulances Disregard Traffic Rules?

Ambulances are classified as emergency vehicles which entitles the ambulance crew with right of way on the roads. Speeding and running red lights are allowed in most cirumstances and if any traffic tickets were to be issued, these offences are likely to be waived in full. Typically these waiver of traffic offences do not result in any permenant record whatsoever and are not taken into consideration for sentencing if the same driver were to commit other traffic offences while on the road.

Can Ambulances Speed And Run Red Lights?

Ambulances are classified as emergency vehicles which entitles the ambulance crew with right of way on the roads. Speeding and running red lights are allowed in most cirumstances and if any traffic tickets were to be issued, these offences are likely to be waived in full. Typically the waiver of traffic offences do not result in any permenant record whatsoever and are not taken into consideration for sentencing if the same driver were to commit other traffic offences while on the road.

Ambulances on active duty have their lights (visual) and sirens (audio) switched on. Thus, it is very easy to identify which ambulance vehicles should be given the right of way.

Upon seeing yellow flashing lights, drivers should continue to drive in a safe manner, observing any traffic control measures in place and avoid endangering the welfare of other road users. (vicroads.vic.gov.au)

When an ambulance has a patient on board or when it is on its way to respond to a situation, the ambulance driver can choose to exercise the entitlement as part of his duty as the vehicle driver and at discretion, use the ambulance exemptions rights. This does not mean that they will always beat the red light, cut traffic or drive very quickly.

Emergency vehicles responding more quickly to help

Running the light or speeding over the legal limit can save lives and create better outcomes for the patient. In an emergency, every second counts and getting to the incident location 5 minutes early matters when the bystanders do little to help the patient survival. Ambulance services count on their drivers to reduce response time as much as possible to deliver a rapid response for life threatening cases.

Emergency vehicles often stop or slow down when they enter intersections to check if they can pass through safely. (qld.gov.au)

Though it is not always possible for an ambulance to get past traffic or get to the destination uninterrupted, ambulances are able to sustain the patient condition temporarily and manage the injured with the paramedic equipment on board.

The aim of the ambulance ride is therefore two pronged. Speed & appropriate medical care.

Obstruction by emergency vehicles in traffic

Emergency vehicles do not come alone to the incident location. Usually, emergency services dispatch the police, ambulance and possibly the fire & rescue departments simultaneously in the event of an emergency.

These vehicles may park on yellow or white demarkation lines. If there are no available parking lots or space, vehicles will be parked in the middle of the road or on the side-walk pavement to reduce their response time in emergencies. Flashing lights or hazard lights will be turned on to warn and indicate to other vehicles. Emergency workers will then get to work immediately thereafter.

In such cases, obstruction to flow of traffic and inconvenience by authorised vehicle is allowed and any complaints to physical obstruction will be deflected by the relevant authorities. Non compliant road users who block the way of ambulances, fire engines and police patrol vehicles can have their vehicle towed away, impounded and/or confiscated with no course of restitution (no payment). Demerit points will be awarded accordingly.

Diverting Traffic Flow

Traffic marshallers may be deployed where possible to provide general re-directions to drivers and provide advice to alternative modes of transport where emergency vehicles have occupied specific roads. Deployed on motorcycles and appearing on foot, the traffic police have the authority in emergency situations. Their instructions supercede (have more authority) over red traffic lights, the highway code and any signages on the road.

Further, traffic lights may be switched off so as to not confuse the traffic and allow drivers to focus their attention on the commands of traffic mashallers at traffic junctions.

Police cordon and blockades may be set up to secure the scene. This may be done to provide a larger safe distance from the main site of danger (such as a fire) or to surround and arrest a potential suspect in the event of a crime.

Specific examples of emergency ambulances breaking the law

Ignoring traffic rules in a sensible manner allows the ambulance to provide quicker patient care. Below are common situations where ambulances have known to break road rules:

  • Beating a red light on a designated junction with no vehicles
  • Going above the legal speed limit on the highway or main road when there is low volume of traffic including in school zones
  • Travelling on the shoulder or service lane (side lanes) on the highway or expressway to overtake a congestion
  • Creating an excess of noise with the horn and siren to warn other road users and prompt them to give way to the ambulance
  • Ignoring road blocks, police identity check and speed traps
  • Making an illegal or unauthorised U Turn
  • Driving (slowly) against traffic flow & on the wrong side of the road
  • Crossing the solid white line or median strip on a road with two way traffic
  • Not coming to a completre stop at a pedestrian crossing or level corssing
  • Cut the queue at customs and border clearance. Skipping immigration procedures is possible if the patient onboard the ambulance is in critical care / intensive care (ICU) or a sudden medical emergency such as cardiac arrest.

During priority dispatch, the primary safeguard in place to reduce incidence of accidents is to switch on the blinker lights and sirens (L&S) on these emergency vehicles. Ambulance drivers are required to turn the lights and sirens even in daytime where visual contrast is low and even if no road users are present. These audio visual warnings make real difference to road safety and are demonstration of reasonable care to be expected of emergency response drivers when handling emergency cases.

The average emergency response time across the United States is 15 minutes and 19.2 seconds, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data from 1994 to 2013. (thezebra.com)

Demerit points are not awarded by policemen in such cases. A large number of traffic offences are included in the ambulance exemptions under law, regulation or rules.

If automated systems such as a red light camera with automatic photo taking of the speeding offence, these systems typically waive the offence upon Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) detection of license plate. Otherwise, summons will be waived upon request with supporting documentation (example: motor vehicle registration stating that the vehicle is a registered ambulance).

Break the rules at your own risk

Keep a lookout for others on the road

Giving way to emergency vehicles in poor traffic conditions as a regular driver should be a priority. However, being considerate on the road does not absolve you from an offence should you commit one in the course of being considerate.

There are in fact laws to prevent drivers of emergency vehicles from forcing other road users into any illegal manoeuvres. (carkeys.co.uk)

Braking sharply to a complete stop for a lane change may cause other vehicles to rear-end you. The “safe enough distance” for you may not be the same or enough for the driver behind you. Without sufficient reaction time, another accident can occur, whereas mounting the kerb and hitting signposts can also endanger the welfare of other road users and vulnerable members of the public. Children and the elderly may not be able to react in time to your sudden change in speed or direction. It is not advisable to exceed the speed limit or be reckless just because of the presence of an ambulance.

Do be mindful and exercise your civic responsibility in a prudent and controlled manner. Creating another car accident while trying to help another will not be ideal.

Breaking the law as an ambulance driver

Though the law or traffic rules may give leeway to the ambulance driver, if an accident happens then the driver may still end up in hot soup. By speeding or driving past a red light, the driver demostrates a certain degree of culpability and shows that he is knowingly breaking the law. The ambulance operator will not be able to deflect or deny his personal liability if an accident like a crash or collision occurs as the evidence will clearly be against him.

To maintain a clean driving record and maintain good conscience, ambulance services do not actively exercise its rights and traffic-related ambulance exemptions. Emergency workers only use them only if critically necessary. This includes time sensitive emergencies or if there are indications that the call priority is high or of critical nature.

Witness statements, cameras & evidence

Road cams and in-vehicle cameras of the parties involved in the accident are likely to show the rule breaking behaviour. Testimonials from eyewitnesses – pedestrians, bystanders and even the roadside food vendor – could add on and contribute negatively to the outcome of police investigations.

Worse, if property is damaged or bodily harm (including semi-permenant injuries and death) occurs, then the end result is usually criminal prosecution regardless of the noble intentions of the driver. Trying to save one life while killing or causing harm to others does little to mitigate the offence in a court of law.

Therefore, ambulance drivers are always instructed to drive in traffic carefully regardless of traffic conditions. If the patient is not having an cardiac arrest or in any medical emergency, then rapid response is not needed. Then there is no need to reduce response time as the current case is no longer an emergency call. Regular road rules, traffic rules and  the highway code apply in non-emergency situations. Critical thinking and proper situational assessment of the congestion or crossing is necessary.

Speeding & high speed crashes

In a rush, ambulances may speed and expect other road users to give way. However, not all drivers are cooperative and it is not always possible.

If there is no room to move to the right, drivers should not proceed through the red light to make room for an ambulance, fire truck or other emergency vehicle. You really shouldn’t be pushed through a red light by an emergency vehicle from behind. (tmc.edu)

Swerving in and out of traffic, ambulances in emergency situations may be required to overtake cars which road hog (block the way) for extended periods of time. Driving fast to overtake and slowing down to make the actual lane change is dangerous driving for emergency medical services even with the red and blue lights on.

High speed crashes are rare but in those that happen, the ambulance crew in the front cabin suffer huge injuries. At the back, the sudden stop can worsen the patient’s condition (such as a spinal compression) and can lead to death. Whereas on the road, pedastrians are unlikely to come out unharmed.

“You really shouldn’t be pushed through a red light by an emergency vehicle from behind,” Persse said. (tmc.edu)

 

40km/h is the maximum speed at which pedestrians are likely to survive vehicle impact. (vicroads.vic.gov.au)

Future of Ambulance & Traffic

Traffic is the largest blockage to fast medical care and reduced response times. Ambulance service, despite nearly having everything medically necessary on board, cannot get to her patient quick enough to deliver the treatment required.

Artifical intelligence directs traffic light management to speed emergency crews through congested city streets. (gov.uk/government/case-studies)

As cities, governments and relevant ministries continue to explore possibilities to integrate technology into our emergency services, the least one can do is to comply to the traffic signs and road rules. If everyone could just exercise a little bit of civic mindedness and responsibility, we could make our world a much better place.

As citizens of the world, we minimally need everyone to follow rules and listen. Meanwhile, we would continue to rely on public awareness in the hope that common sense prevails.

 

This post was last modified on November 29, 2020 11:18 pm

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