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The Dangers of Distracted Driving by Emergency Responders

Responsible Florida drivers do their best to safely pull over when we hear or see an ambulance or other emergency response vehicle behind us with lights and sirens on. A recent story about an ambulance driver caught on video using his personal cellphone while taking an injured boy to the hospital made the news because we depend on these drivers to be particularly careful amidst what could be a life-or-death situation.

The ambulance driver in question will face some kind of disciplinary action, according to the fire commissioner of his city, because using one's cellphone while driving an emergency vehicle is forbidden. However, what about all of the other electronics on board ambulances and other emergency vehicles that drivers need to do their jobs?

Radios, navigation systems and dashboard computers can be highly distracting. Drivers are using these while traveling at high speeds and trying to maneuver through traffic.

As one paramedic who had a close call with a pedestrian noted, "There is a potential for disaster here." Although distracted driving statistics for emergency vehicles aren't tracked as other distracted driving accidents are, anecdotes abound of people injured by drivers using on-board electronic equipment. Sometimes, those injured are emergency personnel themselves.

Some cities have rules about what equipment drivers can use while operating a vehicle and what must be handled by their partners. However, if a partner is tending to a patient in the back of an ambulance, rules may be broken, with potentially tragic results.

Increased use of hands-free technology and equipment operated through voice commands is making the multi-tasking often required of an emergency responder easier. However, these come at a price. Sometimes, that price is too high for cash-strapped cities and counties across the country.

Emergency responders, whether ambulance drivers, law enforcement officers or fire fighters, at some point must deal with multiple electronics in their vehicles to do their jobs. Then there are some like the ambulance driver we discussed earlier who, despite regulations, use their own personal devices while driving.

If someone is injured in a car accident involving an emergency vehicle, it's wise to seek the guidance of an attorney to determine what legal recourse you may have. If the driver is at fault, he or she and potentially the private or public entity for whom the driver was working may be able to be held liable.

Source: New York Times, "Gadgets in Emergency Vehicles Seen as Peril," Matt Richtel, accessed Sep. 14, 2015

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