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Home > Topics > EMS Advocacy
September 02, 2010
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EMS News in Focus
by Arthur Hsieh

Read the fine print

By Arthur Hsieh

Editor's note: This story is in response to the recent news piece, "UK medic could lose job for speeding to save a life." A medic was fined after he was clocked at 112mph while delivering an organ for emergency surgery. Tell us what you think in the member comments.

1. 112 mph? Seriously? I'm not sure if I should be horrified or impressed. Maybe just horribly impressed.

2. Supersonic speeds aside, it would seem strange that he would be issued a citation for transporting a human organ for transplantation.

Out of curiosity, I looked up a couple of state DMV codes to see if they define the emergency use of an ambulance. In fact, at least a couple of states designate an ambulance as a patient-based transport vehicle. There were couple of regulations that permitted the use of emergency lights during the transport of a patient, but did not indicate any other specifics other than "responding to an emergency call." Given the typical restrictive nature of motor vehicle laws, if it's not explicitly stated, then it would be assumed to be prohibited.

As I looked through the different regulations, it reminded me that the regulations governing ambulance operations can be difficult to learn. I know we are governed by the concept of "due regard" for the driving public, but that term is vague and therefore subject to broad interpretation. There is likely a series of regulations that are very specific.

For example, in California, an ambulance driver must slow to 15 mph before proceeding through a stop sign at an intersection. However, I've been told everything else, from "you have to stop completely" to "as long as the intersection is clear, you don't have to slow down."

Do you know your state laws? Does your state even have a process for certifying ambulance drivers? It might be a good time to pull out that dusty old copy of the regulations and review them. And remember — even if there isn't a rule that oversees the flying around a human liver at 112 mph, common sense might guide you to a safer practice while driving.

About the author

EMS1 Editor in Chief Art Hsieh, MA, NREMT-P currently teaches at the Public Safety Training Center, Santa Rosa Junior College in the Emergency Care Program. In the profession since 1982, Art has worked as a line medic and chief officer in the private, third service and fire-based EMS. He has directed both primary and EMS continuing education programs. Art is a published textbook author, has presented at conferences nationwide, and continues to provide patient care at a rural hospital-based ALS system. Contact Art at Art.Hsieh@ems1.com.
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