Distracted Driving Puts First Responders at Risk
First responders to traffic accidents or fires are at increasing risk from distracted motorists. Seventy-one percent of U.S. drivers take photos or videos when they see an emergency vehicle on the side of the road responding to an incident or making a routine traffic stop, according to a survey from the National Safety Council and the Emergency Responder Safety Institute. Of those drivers, 60 percent post to social media and 66 percent send an email about the event—all while driving.
“What that tells us is not only are they distracted behind the wheel, but they’re more interested in being the first person to share photos and images of these events on social media without regard to their safety or the safety of anyone else around them,” says Kelly Nantel, vice president of communications and advocacy for the National Safety Council.
Between January and early June 2019, 21 emergency responders were struck and killed by vehicles while on the job.
This distracted driving extends beyond emergency situations—during normal conditions, nearly a quarter of drivers said they will take photos or answer emails while driving—but emergency responders are at particular risk. About one out of six drivers (16 percent) said they have either struck or nearly struck a first responder or emergency vehicle stopped on or near the road, according to the survey.
Nearly 90 percent of drivers said they believe distracted motorists are a major source of risk to first responders. The poll also found that 19 percent of drivers admit their inattentive driving has put first responders at unnecessary risk, and 80 percent of drivers surveyed said they slow down to get a better look when they see an emergency response vehicle responding to a fire, crash, or traffic stop, even though doing so backs up traffic and creates additional safety hazards.
“When you’re behind the wheel of a car, your responsibility is to be an attentive driver, and that’s something that we always have to underscore… Distraction is unacceptable,” Nantel says. “People need to be engaged when they’re behind the wheel of a car. When you’re approaching an accident scene or a situation where emergency vehicles are on the side of the road, we should be recognizing that this is the most dangerous time for these individuals, and our attentiveness should be even greater instead of our interest in taking pictures and being a ‘reporter on scene.’”