Prevent Code 3s From Becoming Code Blues
By Renee Burrell
Photo courtesy of Clearwater City Police
CLEARWATER - Did you know that emergency vehicle accidents are the number one cause of police officer deaths in the United States? I'm not surprised after participating in the Clearwater Police Department's Ride Along Program. In an effort to increase public awareness Clearwater PD gave members of the media a chance to experience first hand what their officers and other emergency vehicles have to go through when responding to a Code 3 so we can pass it on to our readers.
National research confirms emergency response vehicles with lights running "Code 2" or "Code 3" produce "wake effect" accidents as drivers are startled by the lights and sirens and fail to respond properly. My personal experience helped verify this and I'd like to give a shout out here to the guy in the blue luxury sedan who failed to pull over and nearly side swiped a police cruiser at the corner of Ft Harrison and Court Streets last Tuesday afternoon at approximately 2:00 pm!
According to Clearwater PD spokesperson, Elizabeth Daly Watts "In 2008, there were 16 crashes involving Clearwater emergency vehicles while operating with lights and sirens. Already this year, there have been six crashes. Luckily, none have resulted in serious injuries, but the risk greatly increases when people do not yield to emergency vehicles."
My driver, Officer B. Starks said that when a Code 3 call comes out from the dispatcher, 'I don't think a whole lot about getting from 'here' to 'there', I just know I have to 'get there'. I have to really focus on the drivers I'm coming up on to try and figure out if they're going to move to the right, or over to the left, or if they're just going to stop where they are. When motorists do the right thing and they're all doing the same thing, their actions are predictable, which makes my job easier."
Officer Stark said he understands with today's sound proofed cars, it's sometimes hard to hear a siren until it's very close, and making quick decisions in heavy traffic can be difficult, but along with the privilege of driving comes the fact that you have to yield to emergency vehicles.
"One of the first things you learn in driver's education is that when emergency vehicles are around you, you slow down," said Starks. "If you're hearing the sirens, we're trying to get to someone who needs us. We're not just doing it for the heck of it. Or because it's fun. We're trying to get somewhere. If it were you or one of your family members, you'd want us to get there as quickly as we can to render aid ůSo as much as it stinks when you're trying to make a lunch meeting and you have to pull over and loose a few seconds, its better than causing an accident and being stuck out there for hours with us while we try to clear up the accident."
By following a few simple rules, you can help emergency workers get to the scene faster and safer. When an emergency vehicle is approaching pull over to the edge of the roadway, clear of intersections, and stop. Remain there until the emergency vehicle has passed. Watch for others. There may be several other emergency vehicles on their way behind the first one.
Keep a foot on the brake so the brake lights let emergency vehicle drivers know you have stopped. Stay at least 500 feet behind any moving emergency vehicle displaying flashing warning lights and sounding a siren. Never race after an emergency vehicle to get through a traffic light. Never pass a moving emergency vehicle displaying flashing lights unless directed to do so by a police officer or emergency personnel.
To protect the safety of officers, emergency crews and everyone on the road, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) adopted the helpful acronym SIREN for motorists to keep in mind.
Stay Alert - Pay attention, keep the noise level low in your car and look for more than one emergency vehicle approaching when you hear a siren. You may consider driving with your window cracked - that will allow you to hear emergency sirens more clearly. Also, be aware for pedestrians who may be in the crosswalk or at the edge of the roadway.
Investigate - Check your rear-view mirror and both sides of your vehicle to estimate the speed of the emergency vehicle and plan your next move. Pull off the highway safely and gradually brake to avoid losing control.
React - React quickly and calmly and scan in all directions before pulling over. Always use a turn signal and don't slam on the brakes or pull over suddenly.
Enter - Before re-entering the road, look in all directions, turn on your signal and gradually merge back into traffic.
Never - Don't stop at a place that doesn't have enough room to pull over safely and never follow or try to outrun an emergency vehicle.
Clearwater High School Driving Instructor Tom Shaneyfelt told the Gazette: "We try to remind students of the importance of yielding to emergency vehicles every semester, in multiple ways. We read about it, we watch videos about it, we even put a fire engine on our range behind a car full of young drivers with the radio blasting to show how easy it is to be oblivious to approaching emergency vehicles. Some-times they see people not handling it correctly when we are on the roads practicing. Many students initially think they need to pull off to the right side of the road (as their parents may have learned), but we stress the key is to move to the safest side available to stay out of the way."
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