What increased passenger vehicle miles mean for EMS and fire departments

EMS and fire departments should pay attention to new driver-behavior data and its likely impact on increasing roadside dangers for personnel

In life, precious little happens in isolation. Any action nearly always brings both intended and unintended reactions. So when I heard a news story about low gasoline prices come over the radio while driving, I figured there was a catch.

And there was.

The sustained lower fuel prices have pushed fuel consumption above record levels — in other words people are driving more presumably because it's cheaper. The other thing they are doing more often is crashing.

And those crashes they are having are worse if you measure severity by the number of fatalities and injuries. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration released a report last week on the number of people killed and injured in vehicle crashes during 2015.

The numbers for both are up for the first time since start of the Great Recession. Motor vehicle crash fatalities are up 7.2 percent and injuries are up 4.5 percent compared with 2014.

Drowsy driving was the only category of human-behavior causes that decreased for fatalities and injuries — not wearing restraints and distracted driving were among the categories that increased, 4.9 percent and 8.8 percent, respectively.

The National Public Radio news report I was listening to cited Federal Highway Administration numbers that showed Americans are driving more — 3 percent more this June compared with last June.

Of course, for fire departments, this creeping increase in the number of vehicle crashes means more MVC responses. If this trend holds, some departments will have to adjust their planning and resource allocation. And of course, this is best done in anticipation of the changes rather than in reaction to them.

The NPR story floated the notion that increased driving trend would continue if fuel prices rose. The logic is that federal mandates on improved fuel mileage will reduce the amount owners spend on fuel.

While I have no data to back this, my gut tells me that consumers will adjust driving habits more based the price they see at the pump than their monthly gasoline expenses.

That aside, fire departments can begin thinking of what changes they will make if vehicle crashes do continue to increase. Some of that may involve charting MVC run reports by month, quarter and year and across different sections of the jurisdiction to identify the need for additional or reallocated rescue resources.

It can also include looking at vehicle and rescue equipment replacement schedules to see if shortening those is warranted. And it may mean additional training for departments that don't perform many extrications.

Most importantly, it will require that departments revisit their on-scene safety practices. Roadside incidents have been and remain a high risk, high frequency threat.

Motorists driving more miles not only means more initial crashes, it raises the potential for those deadly secondary crashes that we all dread. After all, few things in life happen in isolation. 

About the author

Rick Markley is editor-in-chief of FireRescue1 and Fire Chief, a volunteer firefighter and fire investigator. He serves on the board of directors of and is actively involved with the International Fire Relief Mission, a humanitarian aid organization that delivers unused fire and EMS equipment to firefighters in developing countries. He holds a bachelor's degree in communications and a master's of fine arts. He has logged more than 10 years as an editor-in-chief and written numerous articles on firefighting. He can be reached at Rick.Markley@FireRescue1.com.

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