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Rapid Response: Driving while videoing illustrates roadway incident dangers

Apply hazardous incident response principles of time, distance and shielding to minimize risk from callous, selfish, distracted and criminal POV drivers

What happened: A Florida woman was arrested after streaming a live video as she drove while intoxicated. She repeatedly proclaims that she is drunk in the 15-minute video. Some viewers urge her to pullover in written comments and others called the police, who were able to find and stop her before she caused a crash. She could have easily killed or injured other motor vehicle occupants, pedestrians, cyclists or emergency responders working on the roadside.

In a similar incident, the families of two young men released a video taken from inside their wildly speeding car before it crashed into the wall of a church in the U.K. The collision killed both men who were high on a cocktail of illegal and prescription drugs.

Drivers can be under the influence of alcohol and drugs. In 2013 nearly 10 million people reported driving while under the influence of illegal drugs during the previous year.

Why it’s significant: These videos are disturbing for their callous and selfish disregard for others. We have equally frightening dashcam videos of drivers who might be distracted, intoxicated or simply looking for a confrontation. A Utah highway patrol released a dashcam video of an SUV wildly swerving and then rollover after a distracted driver narrowly avoided a collision with a patrol car stopped on the shoulder. Two recent videos from Russia show civilian drivers intentionally blocking the path of an ambulance for no apparent reason.

Top takeaways: Watching these videos highlights the significant danger to public safety professionals — medics, cops, firefighters, as well as tow truck drivers and construction laborers working on roadways. A fully or partially open roadway is likely the most dangerous area emergency responders regularly operate and principles of responder safety for hazardous incident response — time, distance and shielding — need to be applied.

1. Minimize time

At any roadway incident minimize the time spent on scene, especially the time out of the ambulance or response vehicle. Even once the patient is inside the ambulance it should be a high priority response tactic to move the vehicle off the primary roadway and into a parking lot, side road, or other area with less traffic and lower speeds. Clear the roadway of emergency responders and their vehicles as rapidly as possible.

2. Maximize distance

Driver warnings, traffic control devices and blocking vehicles need to be placed well upstream of the response area. The speed of civilian vehicles through, around or near the incident dictates the distance those things should be placed. The faster those vehicles are traveling the further upstream warnings need to be. Move the ambulance or create work areas as far from moving vehicles as possible.

3. Increase shielding

The ambulance patient care compartment is an ineffective shield relative to the high speed and mass of a moving vehicle. Fire, road construction and sanitation trucks have the mass and dimensions for use as temporary shielding. Follow local traffic incident management guidelines to position blocking apparatus and remain vigilant as civilians are known to strike blocking vehicles.

What’s next: Either through intention or accident an EMS professional is going to be killed or seriously injured as a driver narcissistically films their dangerous, reckless and criminal behavior. Treat any roadway response as a highly hazardous incident and protect yourself and others with time, distance and shielding.

Further reading:

L.C.E.S. for car accident scenes

Roadside Visibility

S.C. responders train for safer crash scenes

LODD: Pa. medic killed by coal truck on roadway

Semi driver dies in fiery crash with ambulance

Ambulance struck while responding to interstate collision

Greg Friese, MS, NRP, is the Lexipol Editorial Director, leading the efforts of the editorial team on Police1, FireRescue1, Corrections1 and EMS1. Greg served as the EMS1 editor-in-chief for five years. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a master’s degree from the University of Idaho. He is an educator, author, national registry paramedic since 2005, and a long-distance runner. Greg was a 2010 recipient of the EMS 10 Award for innovation. He is also a three-time Jesse H. Neal award winner, the most prestigious award in specialized journalism, and the 2018 and 2020 Eddie Award winner for best Column/Blog. Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.