The Use of Lights and Sirens by Ambulance Services

In recent times ambulance services have been under increasing scrutiny regarding safety. This is due to the emergence of horrifying statistics revealing an increase in the number of accidents involving emergency vehicles. In the period 1989 to 1990 over 298 collisions were recorded concerning ambulances in the United States. Currently tens of thousands of accidents involving ambulances are documented annually in the United States and Canada combined.

Utilization of Light and Siren Use by Ambulance Services

Numerous factors are designed to mitigate the risk of collisions involving ambulances, the most obvious of these being the widespread use of lights and sirens. The utilization of light and sirens actually predates current ambulance services, and was adopted as a forewarning system owing to the presumption that it would help drivers negotiate traffic. There was also an associated assumption that it would make passenger transport faster and hence improve health outcomes.

Many studies, such as Hunt et al. (1995) have found that patient transport using lights and sirens is actually faster. An average time saving of 43.5 seconds has been reported for emergency transports displaying emergency signals compared to those that are not.

Issues Involved with Light and Siren Use by Ambulance Services

Although the use of lights and sirens has been shown to save, on average, almost a minute when transporting patients, many experts are asking if this small amount of saved time is worth the risk. It is well known that ambulances displaying lights and sirens travel faster, and it could consequently be argued that there is a higher chance of having an accident.

The next point of contention put forward has been the fact that many accidents concerning ambulance services occur at intersections. In these cases lights and sirens are simply not adequate to allow oncoming traffic to see or hear an emergency vehicle. There is also the added issue of civilian cars having to move out of the way for ambulances displaying lights and sirens, further increasing the risk of related collisions. Recent research has predicted that for every ambulance accident involving the use of lights and sirens there are five related civilian collisions.

In the United States and Canada alone over 12,000 accidents involving emergency vehicles displaying lights and sirens are reported annually. In many regions the use of emergency signals such as lights and sirens are also poorly regulated, leaving the definition of what actually constitutes an emergency up to the vehicle operator. This leads experts to propose that lights and sirens are grossly overused by these types of transportation services in general.

With studies in the United State reporting that from approximately 62 percent of ambulance call-outs involving lights and sirens 39.4 percent of patients were in a stable condition. Added to the fact that 92 percent of patients transported without lights and sirens have been found to suffer no negative effects regarding health outcomes. It can be proposed that the liberal usage of lights and sirens by these services should be reviewed in order to make operations safer and more efficient.