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What the NFPA ambulance crash numbers show us

Editor’s note: The NFPA recently published their crash data report, which focuses on the collection of ambulance crash data, including fatalities and injuries from all 50 states, and the methods used to collect this data. The report presents a solid foundation on which to improve driving practices and design safer vehicles, says Art Hsieh.

I've been looking forward to the new NFPA ambulance crash report since it was first announced . It has felt like we have been very inconsistent with data collection surrounding ambulance crashes nationwide. Yet, when glancing at the EMS1 headlines, it seemed like there was a serious crash involving an ambulance being reported every few days. After a preliminary glance, I fear I’m afraid that both suspicions have been validated.

To begin, it appears that virtually every state collects some type of data regarding crashes. In fact, many states have more than one government agency responsible for that role. The data that is collected varies widely from one state to the next. There are a couple of national EMS databases that could provide a way to funnel all of the data into a consistent reporting format that could allow traffic experts and vehicle builders to begin the task of redefining the safety features of an ambulance, and perhaps analyze the need for speed and its relationship to the numbers and severities of crashes.

Next, some of the hard data is alarming. For example, national data sources indicate there were nearly 85,000 crashes involving ambulances reported from 1990 to 2009, resulting in 29,000 injuries and 590 fatalities. Do the math: That's more than 11 crashes a day, every day, for 20 years, with someone being killed about every two weeks. Now, how that compares against the total number of ambulances and miles driven, no one knows, at least not yet. It wouldn't surprise me that we crash and die at a higher rate the the average motor vehicle driver.

This is a great effort to begin the process of understanding ambulance crashes. I hope that it will increase efforts to standardize the reporting process and create uniform data points that we can use to drive better driving practices and safer vehicles. Until then, buckle up, drive carefully and please be safe!

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