Suggestions to rememdy the problem of drivers ignoring emergency response vehicles.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 2003

Dear Tom and Ray:

You recently wrote about the problem of distracted drivers ignoring the sirens of emergency vehicles. Tom's suggestion of "a transmitter, so you could broadcast your siren through the sound systems of cars within a hundred feet of you" got my attention. My company has been developing a technology called Safety Cast (now patent pending, so I can let the word out). It is a transmitter intended for installation in ambulances, police cruisers, firetrucks, railroad locomotives and school buses. It transmits an alert tone, then a verbal message (i.e., "Ambulance emergency, please yield") into a commuter's car radio, over all AM and FM radio stations simultaneously. The Federal Communications Commission's rules allow our device to be utilized by public-sector vehicles for limited-range transmissions (up to one-fifth of a mile). Units are being prepared for final beta tests here in Jacksonville, Fla., with our police, fire and rescue vehicles. -- Mark Foss, President & CEO, Hidden Labs

TOM: Hey, if you need someone to record the message, I'll volunteer, Mark. As long as I can start it with "Hey, knucklehead!"

RAY: Actually, we got letters from two other companies that are coming out with similar devices. One is called Alertcast (in El Dorado Hills, Calif.), and the other is EVA (in Crestwood, Ky.). And apparently, there are several others that have been patented.

TOM: We got a lot of other responses to our column about people ignoring emergency vehicles. Here's another one:

Dear Tom and Ray:

Install a paintball marker in the front of the emergency vehicle. This way, the driver could "fire" at the offending car's rear. (This would probably help with the stress levels that these individuals are subject to.) The vehicle would be marked for law-enforcement officers to ticket and dope-slap at the same time. Have the emergency workers lobby for noise-level ordinances. How many times have you "felt" the radio in cars, say, two to three blocks away from you? Have these individuals ticketed and double-dope-slapped. No sense talking to them ... they can't hear you. And, you ask, what to do with all this money that will be rolling in? All proceeds from the tickets will go to victims or local burn units. The violators may keep the dope-slaps and receipts. --Scott

TOM: The paintball would be popular. Here's a different viewpoint:

Dear Tom and Ray:

I also was an EMT for 16 years. Many ambulance accidents can be blamed at least partly on the ambulance drivers. My service had strict rules. All drivers had to take an emergency-vehicle operator's course. We had to come to a full stop at each intersection with a red light, make sure all other vehicles were stopped and then proceed slowly through the intersection. Speeds were not to exceed 10 mph over the posted limit. No lights and siren when going to the hospital unless the patient was critical, and then no excessive speed, because the medics in the back needed a stable ambulance compartment to work in. I never used lights and siren on expressways -- where can a car go on an expressway to get out of your way? We now carefully screen calls using new protocols and do not use lights and siren to the scene as much as we used to. I drove for 12 years and never had an accident, even in the city. Defensive driving has to become automatic when you drive an emergency vehicle. -- Stephen

RAY: Most emergency responders DO now follow similar safety rules. I'm guessing that the days of slaloming to the hospital at full speed for a sprained ankle are pretty much over, thank goodness.

TOM: But you're right to remind emergency drivers that they should make sure to use their lights and sirens judiciously -- on true emergencies, where minutes might make a difference.

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