WHAT IS PREEMPTION?
Traffic signal preemption is the process of allowing emergency vehicles to manipulate traffic signals in their path, halting conflicting traffic and allowing the emergency vehicle the right-of-way. This has been proven effective in reducing response times, while simultaneously enhancing traffic safety (by dramatically reducing collisions with innocent motorists who may enter the intersection on a green light, but do not hear or see the approaching emergency vehicle).1
WHY IS EMERGENCY VEHICLE PREEMPTION AND COLLISION AVOIDANCE SO IMPORTANT?
Statistics show that nearly half (40%) of firefighters killed in the line of duty die in traffic accidents enroute to the scene. In 2000, over 500 deaths occurred in accidents involving emergency vehicles2. During the period January 2002 through October 13, 2005, auto liability claims alone cost the Phoenix Arizona Fire Department $3.98 million, while damage to apparatus was estimated at over $730,000. In the 1.8 million miles logged by the Phoenix F.D. during that time period, 507 vehicle accidents occurred, of which 308 were determined to have been preventable3.
Emergency vehicles (fire trucks, police cars and ambulances) pass rapidly through traffic intersections, using sirens and flashing lights to alert other drivers of their passage. Confusion, inattention, mobile phones, car radios, hearing impairment, distracting children, air conditioning, vehicle sound proofing, and failure to see flashing lights cause many serious accidents. First responders arrive at the scene faster with emergency vehicle preemption. Shorter response times for emergency vehicles enable them to arrive at a scene in the initial moments when their key decisions are important. For a fire fighter, arriving a minute sooner may mean being able to stop the spread of a fire. In a medical emergency, saved time may be the difference between life and death, giving medics the opportunity to stabilize and treat a victim3.
IN 1997, OVER 15,000 ACCIDENTS WITH EMERGENCY VEHICLES RACING TO EMERGENCY SITES OCCURRED IN THE UNITED STATES2.2
The result is 8,000 injuries, approximately 500 fatalities, and even further damage to city personnel, civilians, and equipment. Millions of dollars are lost to liability claims and vehicle repairs. Emergency vehicle accidents are a worldwide problem with numerous injuries, fatalities and huge costs resulting from lawsuits. Consider the costs to city budgets of one traffic accident involving an emergency vehicle. The scene of the emergency loses its critically needed assistance, and a second crisis is created. Additional local or nearby emergency vehicles must be dispatched to both scenes, straining limited resources and increasing the chances for yet another incident.
EMERGENCY VEHICLE PREEMPTION INCREASES:
- The area that emergency vehicles can cover within required response times
- Safety of emergency vehicle personnel and the public
- The speed of responders in reaching a scene
- The time available for making critical decisions
- Response times
- The cost of replacing emergency vehicles damaged in crashes
- The damage to public and private property caused by delayed responses to fires, chemical spills, and other hazardous events
- The legal liability of public agencies when motorists are injured
- Insurance premiums due to an improvement in ISO classification
1 Source: Intelligent Transportation Systems, U.S. Department of Transportation article “Enhancing Public Safety, Saving Lives: Emergency Vehicle Preemption”(FHWA-JPO-99-002)
2 Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
3 Source: Judi Villa, Arizona Republic front-page article “Fire Truck Wrecks Costly for Phoenix”(12/20/2005)