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Some flashing lights aren’t just for decoration
March 1, 2010
by Ivan Raconteur

It seems to me that emergency personnel have been getting picked off by passing motorists at an alarming rate recently.

These dedicated individuals, including police officers, sheriff’s deputies, state patrol officers, first responders, firefighters, and ambulance crews risk their lives during every shift.

Increasingly, it seems that the danger comes not just from armed suspects or burning buildings, but from knuckleheads who aren’t paying attention when they are behind the wheel.

I have often wondered how this can happen.

Fire trucks, ambulances, and squad cars tend to stand out when they are parked on the side of the road with all of their emergency lights flashing.

The lights are not for decoration, but are intended to make them as visible as possible.

Not only have motorists been taking out emergency personnel who were working outside of their vehicles, but in many cases, they have been plowing into the vehicles themselves.

Some of these incidents have involved drivers who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Others, however, have been as sober as a judge.

I don’t understand this. How does a person who is not impaired fail to notice something as conspicuous as a squad car?

I suspect that part of the problem is that too many drivers are focusing on things other than the complex task of driving when they are behind the wheel.

We tend to take our ability to drive for granted, but doing it well requires constant attention and a certain amount of skill.

Some motorists lack both.

I recently got some firsthand insight into the subject of how officers get hit.

I was dispatched to take photos of a vehicle rollover.

The day was clear and sunny. The sun in the west, so it was certainly not in the eyes of anyone in the southbound lane.

On the right-hand side of the road was a fire truck with its emergency lights flashing.

Next to the vehicle was a firefighter on traffic duty. He was wearing a high-visibility vest and holding a red-tipped flashlight.

Beyond him, on the left side of the road (the shoulder of the northbound lane) were an ambulance, s fire truck, a tow truck, and a police squad in the order mentioned, all with emergency lights flashing.

Near these vehicles was a truck on its side in the ditch.

Further south was a car, which had apparently spun out and was upright, but in the ditch.

The road surface in that area was icy from blowing snow.

The road behind me was straight as a rail for miles, so the aforementioned collection of vehicles must have been visible for quite a distance to anyone who was actually looking where he was going.

I wondered what goes through the mind of the average motorist when confronted with such a scene.

My reaction would be to slow down and approach with caution, being prepared to stop if necessary.

It seems like common sense to give these people as much room as possible to safely do their jobs.

Apparently, not all drivers see things the way I do.

I was shocked at how many drivers nearly blew by the first fire truck without even slowing down.

What did these drivers imagine that guy was doing standing out there in the cold? Waving at them to be sociable?

The firefighter who was working traffic practically had to jump out into the lane gesturing frantically to get the attention of some drivers and persuade them to slow down.

This man’s life was in danger because of clueless drivers.

I suspect there are a few other less polite gestures some of these officers and firefighters might like to make when drivers are so oblivious to what is going on around them. Emergency workers demonstrate a remarkable level of restraint.

Several of the drivers I observed were talking on their cell phones. They were not even using hands-free devices, but holding their phones in one hand.

I have yet to read a study that showed yacking on a cell phone improves anyone’s driving ability.

It occurred to me, as it has so many times in the past, that these officers, firefighters, and EMTs may not appreciate the cavalier attitude some people take toward driving.

Their jobs are tough enough without them having to dodge distracted drivers.

Minnesota’s Move Over law, requires drivers to move over one lane when they observe a vehicle with flashing lights (the law was expanded in 2009 to include not only law enforcement and emergency vehicles, but also maintenance and construction vehicles).

Unfortunately, this requires that drivers actually notice the lights ahead of them.

If drivers aren’t going to move over, I suspect emergency workers would at least ask drivers not to run into them or their vehicles.

Taxpayers have forked over more than $2 million during the past few years to pay for workers’ compensation claims and damaged vehicles.

Worse yet, hundreds of emergency workers have been injured or killed by motorists, and that should not be acceptable to any of us.