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What part of "siren and flashing light" didn't this guy understand?

When I was taking driver's ed, one thing that was seared -- seared into my brain was that a police car, ambulance, fire engine, or any kind of emergency vehicle that has its lights and sirens going ALWAYS has the right of way. Period. Get in its way, and YOU are at fault, regardless of other circumstances. I believed it so devoutly that I once drove over a slight curb to get out of an ambulance's way -- much to my father's wrath, until he actually went to the spot and saw that the "curb" was, indeed, only about an inch and a half high and rounded.

When I was in college, I once came upon an accident scene minutes after it happened. A woman I knew (but didn't really care for) had stopped at a stop sign, then proceeded through. She was T-boned by a racing ambulance, which ran a red light, rolled her car over and left it leaning against a telephone pole. She was given a ticket -- as the law requires.

This morning, I read about another person who had a run-in with an ambulance. Normally, this wouldn't be blog-worthy, but a few odd facts jump out at me.

1) A police officer who witnessed the crash says the ambulance came to a complete stopbefore entering the intersection and broadsiding a Honda Civic.
2) Both vehicles ended up on a traffic island.
3) The officer said the ambulance had its lights and siren going.

Now, here are my questions:

A) Ambulances are HEAVY. How could the ambulance build up enough momentum from a complete stop to hit the speeding Civic (a pretty light car) with enough force to put the ambulance on an island?

B) The ambulance had no patient on board, and officials won't say if it was on an emergency call. Did it really have its lights and siren going? If so, why?

Normally, my instincts tell me to side with the ambulance drivers and hope the dumbass in the Civic gets punished, but there's so many odd things about this story that just don't add up yet...

Comments (18)

Obviously, it's lights and ... (Below threshold)

Obviously, it's lights and sirens could have been going becuase it was responding to an accident, ie on it's way to the scene.

It would also seem to me that the if a speeding Civic t-bone the ambulance then they could have wound up on the traffic island. Hard to figure it happening with the ambulance t-boning the civic.

There are numerous cases of... (Below threshold)

There are numerous cases of emergency workers (ambulance drivers, police, etc.) who flash the lights and use the sirens as a personal convenience. It happens. I think you're right on the physics of the situation, if the ambulance came to a complete stop it simply wouldn't have enough speed to do what was reported.

This is a serious problem i... (Below threshold)

This is a serious problem in multiple states, and I've seen incidents that make me angry, too.

I'm reminded of what my parents told me about living in California. They passed a law that made the failure to yield to an emergency vehicle a very serious crime: you got a huge fine or had your license taken away every time. But the best is that the local police were encouraged to listen on the radio for an emergency vehicle making a run. They staked out intersections along the route or followed the vehicle, waiting for a driver to screw up. The word got out fast: let emergency vehicles through or you will get caught. In these days of hood-mounted cameras, the case is a slam dunk.

Let's have some law enforcement.

These bozos are endangering public safety.

Possible answer to question... (Below threshold)

Possible answer to question A:

Ambulance front bumper rides "up" onto some part of the Civic, removing ambulance's front tires from contact with road surface. The Civic "becomes" the front wheels of the ambulance.

The Civic, traveling at right angles, accomplishes the same thing as if the ambulance driver had wrenched the steering wheel either hard left or hard right, directly toward the traffic circle.

Ambulance's own momentum carries it forward on its "Civic-adjusted" vector.

One possibility, anyway. Hard to know without seeing the aftermath. To bad you didn't get a quick phone-cam shot of it!

My eldest daughter is a par... (Below threshold)

My eldest daughter is a paramedic and she tells loads of tales of people who either are just oblivious to ambulance sirens or just plain hostile to ambulances and try and challenge 'em.

As she says shaking her head "They just don't understand how reinforced and heavy these suckers are."

She has to slow down to a complete stop before entering an intersection, even with sirens and lights..and still, she got sideswiped once by a car full of teenage girls who had scooted up the right hand side of the road past the stopped cars and turned right without stopping ...

When responding to a call and using the freeway, drivers are just plain reluctant to yield to her.

She starts nursing school for her RN this fall.

The story states that the a... (Below threshold)

The story states that the ambulance driver turned to avoid the civic. Thus the ambulances direction is altered towards the island. Both drivers are possibly jarred from the gas/brake pedals and don't get repositioned until hitting the island.

My brother once T-boned an old lady who turned left on red. (It was her turn!) BTW, I was in the back seat. Her car ended up on the curb behind us. I actually say the soles of her shoes when we hit. She told the police officer that we were going so fast we knocked her car to its present location. The cop tried not to laugh while relaying this to us. He said the car would have to have to have flipped end over and rolled once to get there. POINT: Where the vehicles ended don't tell the whole story. You need to see how they got there.

Seared into your brain, Jay... (Below threshold)

Seared into your brain, Jay?

I'm going to organize Swift Ambulance Chasers for truth- we'll expose this lie of yours to the public on TV.

The professionals operating... (Below threshold)

The professionals operating ambulances in the United States do make errors. The laws of most states, however, impose a greater duty on the drivers of ambulances than on ordinary vehicles. That's why ambulances stop at red lights now, even with their lights and siren going.

I've been driving on a six lane superhighway and had cars pass me on either side while I was doing 70. I've nearly been t-boned twice by people ignoring the other dozen cars stopped for me and whipping by them on the right. I've had a logging truck turn left as we were direct outside his side window running lights and siren. I've been both lucky and careful, mostly lucky.

I had an aunt who was an RN... (Below threshold)

I had an aunt who was an RN who did oocasional ambulance duty. She mentioned one time, off-handedly, that in one instance an ambulance driver used his flashing lights and siren to get the "empty" vehicle back to the hospital quickly because it was the end of his shift. Knowing my aunt, I surmise it was true. But nonetheless, irrespective of it's purpose, an emergency vehicle traveling in an"emergency mode" has the right of way. The Honda in this case loses no matter what.

I'm a "retired" paramedic. ... (Below threshold)

I'm a "retired" paramedic. This kind of story was a daily occurance for us. People are just clueless. We often wished for front-mounted laser guns to disintegrate dumbass drivers that wouldn't get out of our way.

To answer some of the questions ... the box-type ambulance (big box on a dual wheel truck chassis) fully loaded with equipment weighs in around 5 to 6 tons. The ones I worked in were powered by specially built Ford E-750 Turbo deisel engines. Most states require emergency vehicles running L&S to come to a complete stop at intersections if the light is red, or there is a stop sign. The passenger "clears right" while the driver checks left. Then the accelerator is stomped to the floor. That big ole Turbo deisel can MOVE those 6 tons like nobody's business.

As the law of physics would have it, an accelerating object will apply more force than an object moving at a steady rate of speed. Thus, the hit the Honda took was much greater than if the ambulance had been moving at the same speed, but not accelerating. Factor in the likely driver response of attempting to turn to miss the Honda, and winding up in the middle seems highly likely.

In all of the EMS systems I have worked in, dispatchers determine whether or not L&S are to be used to respond to the call, depending on the severity of the reported complaint. Chest pain, difficulty breathing, motor vehicle accidents or other severe trauma merit emergency response. Each call is assigned a priority and the EMS crew responds in accordance to that level. This is a matter of quite a debate .... whether it is worth the few minutes saved on the response to the patient vs the risk of emergency traffic.

In any case, against an ambulance, you will lose. Get out of the way ...

RE: Laws of Physics<p... (Below threshold)

RE: Laws of Physics

I don't believe that the fact that the ambulance was accelerating changes the force of the impact according to the laws of physics. The force of the impact would be directly related to the mass and the velocity of the object, plus a number of other factors like the angle of impact, height of each vehicle at point of impact, composition of each vehicle at POI, etc. All those would be a factor determining the damage to each vehicle and where and how far they go after the impact, but I don't believe acceleration would change anything. Technically, physics defines acceleration as ANY change in EITHER velocity or direction. Maybe an engineer or someone with specific knowledge of traffic accidents could chime in here.

I witnessed a similar crash... (Below threshold)

I witnessed a similar crash once between two cars that were probebly alike in weight, an early 1990's Chevy Silverado pickup and a two door import (could have been a Civic, or something similar).

The two door whipped around me and ran a red light to make a left turn in a busy intersection. The Chevy, not traveling all that fast, entered the intersection and clearly slammed on his brakes as the import turned right in front of him. He hit the front passenger fender of the import, and I doubt either car was going over 20mph. The import was complete spun around, a bit more than 180 degrees, losing most of the front bumper, lights, etc. This was a fairly low speed accident, but the smaller car was tossed around.

While visiting family in Iceland back in 1988, I watched a four door Pugeot get flipped onto the passenger door by another car (one of them ran a stop sign, I think). The accident wasn't fast, but the flipped car was pushed into a curb, which acted like a lever to flip it.

From what I've seen in traffic camera shots and on "Worlds Wildest Police Videos", if the conditions line up right, it isn't all that hard to flip a car over. It doesn't seem to take all that much speed. If the Civic in this story was pushed into a traffic island, it might have flipped itself over.

Commenter Jon asks f... (Below threshold)

Commenter Jon asks for an engineer to chime in. OK! (me: Bach. Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Tech, 1988).

Jon is exactly right. LissaKay is wrong in her assertion that the fact that the ambulance is accelerating at the point of impact. The velocity is the relevant factor.

In fairness to LissaKay, however, there is a non-momentum related factor at play here, and perhaps this is what she meant, but didn't describe well.

In a force-vector analysis that isn't a simple snapshot at impact, but proceeds beyond the time of impact, we have a couple of things going on. We have the force resulting from the impact momentum, and, assuming that big diesel engine is still cranking out the massive horsepower (i.e., driver hasn't had time yet to react and lay off the throttle), we have additional tractive forces at the rear wheels, trying to accelerate the ambulance. I think what LissaKay means is not that the ambulance is accelerating, but that it is still trying. And that is a very real, very large force that would have to be accounted for.

People who refuse to give a... (Below threshold)

People who refuse to give an emergency vehicle the right-of-way are dumbasses.

However. It can sometimes be very difficult to tell where the vehicle is coming from if you can't actually see it. Just this past weekend, my wife was driving into town when we heard sirens. We stopped as we neared an intersection, thinking that the ambulance was coming from the left or right on the cross street. Just then it crested a hill right behind us. We pulled over immediately, as did the other drivers nearby, but we'd all made the same mistake. Sirens can be deceptive.

Anyone who doesn't pull ove... (Below threshold)
Just Me:

Anyone who doesn't pull over to allow an emergency vehicle to pass is just plain stupid.

I also think the laws of physics probably would allow for the cars to end up where the did, especially incombination with driver response and reaction time.

Also, emergency vehicles sometimes do use lights and sirens to get to an emergency, so the fact that the ambulance was empty doesn't mean much-if they were heading to a accident scene, or say a report of heart attack or similar, I would fully expect the ambulance to get to the scene as quickly as possible, without waiting at all the various redlights inbetween.

It's actually to be expect... (Below threshold)

It's actually to be expected that the Ambulance be going fairly fast at impact, even from a standing start.
Figure we don't see many trafic lights at the intersection of two-lane streets. It's more likely tow or three lanes each direction plus left turn lanes and maybe even a median. That's plenty of room to accelerate to a pretty fair clip.
LissaKay may be off on the physics but she's dead bang on about those big turbodeisels. When those ambu drivers put the right foot down they're dropping a big hammer.

Oh, and BTW, almost all am... (Below threshold)

Oh, and BTW, almost all ambulances and police cruisers now have something very similar to Lojackon board. Not long after I retired my department had the ability to not only see where the cars are but whether the lights and sirens are on. Took a lot of the fun out of working the graveyard shift. No more bumper tag or city-county-state races. Sigh.

Jim -I think I can... (Below threshold)

Jim -

I think I can say without a doubt that Jay has never driven an abulance anywhere near Cambodia, even by mistake, at Christmas or any other time of the year, in any year.






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