Readers weigh in on a previous post about emergency-response vehicles.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 2003

RAY: We're still getting mail regarding a column we wrote about emergency-response vehicles. An EMT wrote us to ask what could be done about drivers failing to yield right of way to ambulances and rescue vehicles.

TOM: Lots of you wrote to us with ideas, thoughts and suggestions. Here are some of them:

Dear Tom and Ray:

I worked for GM for many years, and right after I started in 1976, I turned in a suggestion about installing a device such as a detector that would pick up the frequency of police, fire and ambulance vehicles, and that would alert people that one was nearby. At the time, I stated how soundproof cars were. Needless to say, they are more soundproof today than they were in 1976. I was told that this would be an invention rather than a suggestion, and I should submit it to the new-devices department. It would have been so easy to tie it into one of the many bells and whistles already in the cars. Several months later, I was informed that it would not work because it might interfere with the police. They inferred that it would be a "heads-up" to a traffic violator that an emergency vehicle is nearby, and would make it harder to apprehend such violators. A couple of years later, I resubmitted my idea and was issued new papers and excuses. Before I retired in 1997, I resubmitted my idea, and it was forwarded to the Electronics Division, never to be heard from again. I can't see why they have never accepted my suggestion/invention. My last two cars (2000 Deville and 2002 DTS) have detectors in the rear bumpers that chime at different tones to alert the driver to the proximity of something in the back or on the side. I really think it would be a great improvement to the safety of emergency vehicles, and would help them get to the scene of accidents and also get survivors to local emergency hospitals. I hope someone will look into this. -- Rodericke

TOM: Well, Rodericke, you'll be happy to know that you were simply ahead of your time. Similar systems are being rolled out this year by independent companies. We heard from several outfits that want to equip ambulances with devices that broadcast through nearby car radios -- alerting drivers to get out of the way.

RAY: Of course, you'll be unhappy to know that you won't be getting any royalties whatsoever. But that's life, huh?

TOM: I should also point out that each emergency vehicle is in control of its device, so if it needs to travel without being detected, it just keeps the thing turned off. Duh, right?

RAY: Here's another perspective on the problem:

Dear Tom and Ray:

As an emergency physician, I am all too aware of the problems that ensue when two objects attempt to occupy the same space at the same time. What most EMTs fail to realize is that driving "code 3" (lights and sirens, and going like a bat out of hell) saves only typically 30 seconds on the average urban ambulance transport (published studies). Most people just do not have the awareness to avoid an ambulance that might be driving at a very high differential speed compared with regular traffic. When we do our "ride-alongs" with the EMTs, I am amazed and rather petrified at some of the extreme maneuvers that EMTs use to get an ankle sprain to the hospital quickly. In our Emergency Medical Services system, we are working to severely restrict this practice.

It always distresses me to hear about cases in which the EMS system causes more mayhem than it prevents on the streets. The statistics across the country concerning EMS accidents are sobering. With the increased congestion in most of our urban areas, the number of accidents will continue to climb until every EMS system revamps its transport policies. -- Tim Johns, M.D.

RAY: We know that many emergency-service operations are already restricting speed in urban areas. And we agree with you. That's the right thing to do.

TOM: But even when they're driving safely, emergency drivers are still having problems with people failing to yield to them, leaving them stuck in traffic with a passenger in the back. And it's not always something as mild as a strained left buttock.

RAY: Here's one we liked:

Dear Tom and Ray:

I suggest expanding a program already in place: video cameras. Many police officers already have video cameras in their cruisers to be used during traffic stops. Why not expand these to other official vehicles? When some bonehead pulls an egregious offense, slow the emergency vehicle long enough to get a good picture of the offender, then make FOUR copies of the tape. Copy 1 goes to the police as evidence of a serious crime: failure to yield. Copy 2 goes to the media for the evening's "Most Dangerous Drivers" segment. Copy 3 goes to the vehicle's insurance company. Copy 4 goes to the family of the original victim, whose safety was threatened by the bonehead. Given that copy No. 1 probably won't be acted upon, let the civil lawyers loose (you know, the ones chasing ambulances). -- Keith

TOM: Keith, city hall needs you.

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