Ambulance Crash Roundup

Ambulance Crash Roundup

By Ed Ballam Feb 09, 2011

In 2010, there were more than 250 U.S. ambulance crashes that made the news. Given there are close to 50,000 ambulances on the road on any given day, responding to hundreds of thousands of medical calls, it’s very likely there were even more collisions than those making headlines.

In a search of news outlets and logs from January 1 to December 31, 2010, EMS World staff found 264 crashes in the news.

In all of the wrecks last year, at least four ambulance crew members were killed as well as nine civilians—some patients and some other motorists. A total of 39 people were hurt, suffering injuries ranging from bumps and bruises to life-threatening wounds. At least 17 of those injured were ambulance crew members. Close to half of the collisions occurred at intersections.

Despite the federal government’s hawk-like watch over most industries and professions, there is a dearth of information about ambulance wrecks. Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) require reporting. This means there is no central repository for crash reports, making it difficult to quantify the number of incidents that occur in any given year. Nevertheless, there’s value in examining the ones that are known and have been made public through news agencies and other public information sources.

While it seems obvious that ambulance crashes are woefully underreported, the ones that have made news imply some interesting trends and provide a snapshot of some of the primary causes of collisions, much like a survey.

It’s important to note that of the 264 crashes found by staff, very few occurred in large metropolitan areas. This is most likely because crashes are less likely to make the news in major cities.

With that disclaimer, here’s an analysis of the known crashes of 2010.

Ambulance Crash Factors

One can fully understand that intersections would be the standout of all factors involving ambulance wrecks. Assigning no blame, analysis reveals that about 43% of the crashes occurred where two or more roads cross.

In most of those 114 mishaps, ambulances were hit by vehicles as they attempted to go through the intersection, although there were many ambulances that hit other vehicles. Intersection controls seem to play a factor in a large portion of those collisions, as ambulances tried to travel against red lights with sometimes-disastrous results.

The next largest factor in crashes appears to be loss of control of the ambulances, with at least 26 of those kinds of incidents making the news. Such events included ambulances that went off the road on straight-aways and drivers failing to negotiate corners. In many cases, excessive speed was also a contributing factor to loss of control resulting in a wreck. Overcorrecting of steering played a role in several of these kinds of crashes, according to the analysis.

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Not surprisingly, road conditions contributed to the wreck of at least 20 ambulances, with icy and snowy roads being the largest percentage of those and  hydroplaning and even wind also registering as factors.

Rear-end collisions, with either the ambulance striking another car stopped in traffic, or ambulances being rear-ended while responding or stopped in traffic, came in with 21 incidents.

In a related statistic, at least 11 ambulances were hit while parked, either rear-ended or broadsided.

Another statistic to emerge from the survey was the effect of impaired driving. No fewer than 16 crashes had some connection to the use of alcohol or drugs, with civilian motorists being the largest group of offenders. Crew members, however, were not exempt.

Moose and deer in the roads caused a number of crashes, as did roadway debris, power lines and even railroad crossing gates. Ten collisions were attributed to roadway obstructions.

Ambulances also are not immune to colliding with one another, or with other emergency response vehicles, including fire trucks and police cruisers. At least 10 emergency vehicle collisions involving ambulances made the news in 2010.

Driver error played a role in eight wrecks. Motorists heading the wrong way on one-way roads, medics spilling beverages, and civilians drifting into oncoming traffic all took tolls on EMS response vehicles.

Then, there was a rather large, all-encompassing category of “others” which included several backing accidents, U-turns, mechanical failures, pedestrians struck by ambulances and even reckless driving. That category accounted for 26 crashes.

In reviewing the largest category of crash causes—intersections—failure to yield right of way was nearly always a factor.

One tragic collision that exemplifies the issue occurred in Illinois in October. An EMT was killed, as was a passenger in the pickup truck involved in the collision.

According to reports, a Clark County Ambulance was transporting a patient to a local hospital when the ambulance went through a rural intersection and was hit by a pickup truck.

The EMT, Richard Poorman, 52, of West Union, and his patient were both ejected from the ambulance as it overturned from the force of the collision.  Poorman died at Crawford Memorial Hospital from his injuries.

Stephen H. Daugherty, 45, also of West Union, was a passenger in the pickup truck and he also died as a result of the injuries he received, after being transported to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.

The driver of the truck and the patient in the ambulance were both airlifted from the scene for treatment of serious injuries. The driver of the ambulance was uninjured.

Police say the crash happened because the pickup truck failed to yield to the ambulance. Both vehicles ended up in a ditch.

In another tragic incident, icy conditions and failure to maintain control of the ambulance resulted in a serious crash in Bradford, Vermont in December.

According to reports, a CALEX ambulance was traveling on Interstate 91 while returning from a trauma transport to the local medical center. Ambulance Service Director Jay Wood hit ice on a bridge and lost control of the vehicle, sending it hurdling some 60 feet off the side and into the road below.

Wood suffered a fractured heel and responder Jay Benitez had vertebrae fractures and broken ribs. Both men were extricated from the totaled ambulance by local rescue crews and transported back to the trauma center they had just left.

Vermont State Police said icy conditions were the primary cause of the crash and also reported that speed was not a factor.

In September, a 22-year-old Florida EMT escaped serious injury when he lost control of the ambulance he was driving, travelled across several lanes of Interstate 95 and rolled over. According to reports, Marli Oberholzer, of Pomona Park, and passenger Aaron Bryan Connell, 38, of Interlachen, were both treated at the scene for minor scrapes and bruises.

According to police, the Putnam County emergency unit overturned when the ambulance veered from the left southbound lane of I-95 into the median, where it destroyed the guardrail and rolled over and landed on its wheels in the northbound side of the Interstate.

Skid marks and deep tire tracks were noted at the scene and the guardrail was reduced to twisted metal. The $190,000 ambulance sustained at least $70,000 in damage and, at the time, officials said it was not clear whether the unit could be repaired.

Reviewing the snapshot of reported collisions with its myriad causes, it seems the lessons are to carefully watch intersections, slow down and watch out for changing road conditions. It could save lives.




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