Emergency Vehicle Accidents

Stephen M. Smith
Last Updated:
December 2, 2019

We expect the drivers of emergency vehicles to be careful. However, thousands of people sustain injuries in accidents involving emergency vehicles every year.

The figures are not as surprising as they may seem. Police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances often travel at fast speeds. Even when their lights and sirens on one error can cause a serious accident.

An emergency vehicle responding to an incident can engender panic in other drivers as they attempt to pull over to avoid fast-moving ambulances, cop cars, or fire trucks.

Every year over 100 people lose their lives in accidents involving these vehicles, according to the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The agency reported that 559 law enforcement officers were killed in the United States by vehicle crashes from 2000 to 2008.

The statistics only tell half of the story. More innocent bystanders and other motorists lose their lives in police chases and crashes involving cruisers.

Police chases claim the lives on an average of 355 people every year, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. About a third of those who lose their lives are innocent bystanders.

A 2019 article by McClatchy indicated the number of innocent people who die in police chases is rising. At least 416 people died in police chases in 2017, according to an analysis of federal records by FairWarning. This was the fourth consecutive year when the number of people killed as a result of police pursuits increased – and a 22-percent increase over 2013 when 341 people were killed. At least 13,100 people died in police pursuits from 1979 through 2017, according to official statistics.

The death toll from police chases is considerable. More people die every year in these accidents than from hurricanes and tornadoes combined. The statistics also found.

In 57 cases, people lost their lives in crashes in which the fleeing driver was hitting speeds at over 100 mph.

Black people lose their lives disproportionately. African Americans accounted for 36 percent of the deaths of people whose race was recorded, compared to just 12 percent of the U.S. population.

A quarter of the drivers who were fleeing from police vehicles were drunk. The decision of police to chase drunk drivers has been questioned. Intoxicated drivers are more likely to crash, causing deaths and injuries.

John Whetsel, a retired Oklahoma sheriff and chairman of the traffic safety committee of the National Sheriffs’ Association told McClatchy the number of pursuit-related deaths is rising because suspects are more likely to flee police than in the past.

Crashes Involving Ambulances in Virginia

In May 2019, four people were injured in a crash between an ambulance and a pickup truck in Richmond. When ambulances are involved in crashes, vulnerable patients being transported may suffer serious and life-threatening injuries.

In 2018 in King George County, a Westmoreland County ambulance was taking a patient to a local hospital when it hit two vehicles at an intersection. Police say the emergency lights and siren were activated when the crash happened. One occupant of a van died and two other people suffered injuries.

The NHTSA released a report detailing the number of ambulance accidents in the United States. The agency studied the number of ambulance accidents over a 20 year period from 1992-2011.

The study released in 2014 revealed there are about 6,500 accidents involving ambulances every year. As many as 35 percent of crashes resulted in injury or the death of at least one of the people involved in the accident.

Due to the speed of emergency vehicles, the fatality rates in crashes in fire trucks, ambulances, and police cruisers are about 4.8 times higher than the national average.

A report from the NHTSA stated a quarter of all fatalities occur inside the ambulance at the time of the crash. In the majority of fatal crashes involving an ambulance, the driver or passenger of another vehicle loses his or her life.

Crashes Involving Fire Trucks in Virginia

Fire trucks are involved in crashes on occasions in Virginia. Recently, a fire truck in Chesterfield was rear-ended at the scene of an incident.

In 2018, two volunteer firefighters died and three others suffered injuries after their fire truck crashed while responding to a highway wreck in West Virginia. The five members of the Pratt Volunteer Fire Department were heading toward a crash on the West Virginia Turnpike.

Fire trucks are heavy vehicles that move at fast speeds. Every year, about 1,000 injuries and a handful of deaths are caused in fire truck accidents.

When the Emergency Services are to Blame for Crashes

Although emergency vehicles have the right of way when their blue lights are on and their sirens are activated, that does not mean drivers of emergency vehicles cannot be reckless. On occasions, they have not even activated their flashers and sirens when responding to an incident.

All too often police officers start pursuits over minor traffic infractions. Often innocent bystanders and other people in other vehicles end up injured or dead.

If you or a family member has been hurt in an accident involving an emergency vehicle, please contact the Smith Law Center today at (757) 244-7000.

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