What is the appropriate discipline for driving 17 mph above the speed limit?
An ambulance crew is suspended without pay after a news crew plays highway "gotcha"
The news of an ambulance caught speeding on an interstate highway points to another unwinnable situation for field providers. Is it reasonable to expect any ambulance crew to drive with due regard, rapidly deliver a patient, quickly return to the service area, not rack up overtime and perfectly represent the agency?
The video of the ambulance driving on Interstate 24 toward Nashville appears to be filmed by an opportunistic news crew from WKRN. The reporter uses the video to play a game of "gotcha" with the county EMS director.
As I watch the video, I see an ambulance moving through moderate traffic on a multi-lane highway on dry roads, with clear sky overhead and being passed by some passenger vehicles while passing others.
After viewing the video and analyzing the vehicle data, the EMS agency suspended both crew members without pay for an unreported amount of time.
Do you think the crew members are bad people caught in the act of a bad behavior?
I don't think so. Just culture leads me to believe that they are good people making decisions based on the systems and culture within which they work.
What we don't see or hear in the news report are possible explanations for the ambulance being driven up to 87 miles per hour. I am not excusing the behavior, but four unanswered questions quickly came to mind.
- Are there organizational forces at play that lead personnel to believe it is OK to drive 15 to 20 miles per hour above the speed limit?
- Was the crew being held over their shift end time and driving fast to complete a long distance transfer so they could start their time off?
- What was the call volume in their response area and were they feeling urgency or pressure to complete the transfer so they could support their colleagues?
- What is the department's policy for lights and sirens use on the freeway? Some departments don't use red lights and sirens on the freeway.
I also have a question for the news crew. Did they call 911 to report the speeding ambulance? If the ambulance posed a danger to civilians on the road, the news crew's first obligation should be to the safety of its audience — not trying to get a scoop.
Discipline needs to exist on a continuum with consequences appropriate to the infraction, consistently applied and communicated through training and policies. Were all of the personnel of this agency aware that driving 17 miles per hour over the speed limit punishable with an unpaid suspension? Or is this incident in the "they should have known better" category?
I haven't driven 115 miles per hour since I was 16 and I have been driving slower ever since. My speed decreased as my knowledge, experience and awareness of others increased. As you operate any emergency vehicle, remember as the vehicle's speed increases you have less time to react, vehicle stability decreases and it takes more road to slow or stop.
I want to hear from you in the comments. Is this a punishable offense? Explain why or why not. And how would you have handled this media-driven caught in the act incident?