Does crash risk increase when emergency vehicles are driving with lights and sirens?

Introduction: Emergency vehicles, such as police, ambulances, and fire vehicles, need to arrive at the scene of emergencies as quickly as possible, and thus they often travel in emergency mode – using their lights and sirens and often bypassing traffic signals. The authors examined whether travelling in emergency mode increased crash risk among police, ambulance and fire vehicles. Methods: The authors conducted a quasi-induced exposure analysis using data from the Iowa Crash Database for the period of 2005 through 2013. The data are maintained by the Iowa Department of Transportation (IADOT), Office of Driver Services (ODS) and includes all investigating police officer's reports of motor vehicle crashes. The quasi-induced exposure method is an approach to calculate crash risk in the absence of exposure data using vehicles without a contributing cause (did not contribute to the crash) as a proxy for the baseline driving population. Results: From 2005 – 2013, police vehicles were involved in 2406 crashes and ambulances and fire vehicles were involved in 528 crashes. Police vehicles were 1.8 times more likely to crash while driving in emergency mode than usual mode; this was a statistically significant increase. Ambulance and fire vehicles were not more likely to crash in emergency mode compared with usual mode. For police, other factors that contributed to crash risk included gender, age, icy/snowy roads, unpaved roads, and intersections. For ambulances and fire vehicles, other factors that contributed to crash risk included gender, age, weekends, icy/snowy roads and urban locations. Conclusion: Crash risk increased when police vehicles drove with lights and sirens but did not increase for ambulance and fire vehicles. Further research is necessary to develop and evaluate strategies to mitigate crash risk among police vehicles. Cultural approaches which prioritize transportation safety in conjunction with reaching the scene as quickly as possible may be warranted.


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  • Accession Number: 01667088
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Mar 26 2018 2:37PM