The glamor and fascination with firefighters, paramedics, EMTs and other medical first responders are legendary attractions both in Hollywood films and real life.

The frontline of brave heroes draws followers. Mesmerized drivers stare at the drama of a rescue in progress when they unexpectedly see the rotating light bar from a firetruck at the side of the road.

Distractions caused by emergency response

The National Safety Council, in conjunction with the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, found that vehicle operators are highly distracted by a crisis scene. A comprehensive survey revealed that drivers’ inattention to their surroundings in the age of technology is predictable. Over 71% of survey respondents admitted to using media to report the event and to driving erratically to get a closer look. When distraction levels are this high, drivers forget they are in control of a multi-ton vehicle. Other drivers surrounding them are also not paying much attention to the road. A majority of those near a crash-and-rescue operation drive dangerously.

Emergencies fascinate drivers

Several things happen almost simultaneously when drivers approach the scene of an emergency. Around 60% of survey respondents admitted they engage in the following dangerous behaviors behind the wheel upon encountering a roadside emergency rescue:

  • Post a description of the event on social media
  • Take multiple photos of the scene
  • Record video of the rescue while driving
  • Send emails to friends and family
  • Turn to passengers and talk about the action
  • Slow down to get a better view
  • Drift over as closely as possible to the rescue site

Traffic dangers to first responders are critical

In 2013, there were 37 fatalities and 17,028 injuries to first responders helping at crashes involving fire trucks, police vehicles or ambulances. During the first three months of 2019, 16 emergency responders died when struck by distracted drivers. Of those who responded to distracted driving in the survey, 49% replied that injury or death caused by a passing vehicle was merely one of the risks taken by first responders. Apparently, they took no responsibility for contributing to that risk. Many drivers are aware of the “move over” law in nearly all states. When they see an accident, they are required to change lanes when safe to do so and move away from the accident site.

First responders hurt by distracted drivers may recover compensation from those who endangered them. Families of responders who were fatally injured can claim compensation on behalf of the deceased person’s estate.