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Intersection dangers for emergency vehicle operators

Drivers must be aware of their surroundings all the time and not be distracted

Editor’s note: This is the second article of a three-part series on emergency vehicle operations, which includes roadway command, intersection analysis, and vehicle placement. Check out the first part here.

By Robert Raheb
FDNY EMS Lt. (ret), Emergency Response Specialist — FAAC, Inc.

When it comes to emergency responses, intersections can be considered the most dangerous area of roadways.

According to pertinent studies1, ambulance collisions for instance cause 10 injuries per day and two fatalities per month. In addition, 37 percent of all ambulance collisions occurred in an intersection with some type of control device and the ambulance struck the other vehicle 74 percent of the time in all fatal ambulance collisions.

Numerous factors lead to these collisions — distractions (inside and out of the vehicle), speed, environmental factors, other drivers, sun glare, limited sight distance, as well as the crew, which may be adrenaline charged and not properly trained or not familiar with the area and road conditions.

Drivers must be aware of their surroundings all the time and not be distracted, but when approaching the intersection this is even more important and in an urban setting it becomes a continuous situation.

When clearing an intersection with the green light or a pre-emptive light system that allows the emergency vehicle to travel through the intersection with a green light, EVOs still should:

  • Reduce their speed
  • Cover their brake
  • Try and make eye contact with other drivers
  • Use turn signals

When clearing an intersection against the red light, the EVO should:

  • Ensure all warning lights and siren are fully engaged (using the yelp siren and short burst on an air-horn in 1-2 second intervals is encouraged)
  • Come to a complete stop prior to the intersection and at every lane you cross to ensure that traffic has yielded
  • Try not to push other drivers into the intersection, if possible cross the yellow line and travel “left of center”

When clearing an intersection against the red light and traveling left of center, the EVO must:

  • Come to a complete stop at the rear bumper of the first vehicle in the left lane (that is to your right)
  • Move forward and clear each lane one at a time and do not move until it is safe to do so
  • Do not exceed 20 mph and in congested intersections travel at 2-3 mph (remember, traffic is coming from your left and you are in the oncoming lane of traffic; you have shortened the reaction and braking distance of both vehicles substantially
  • Check the intersection again, even if you already have done so.

So how does one train for this?

Most driver training programs teach proper intersection analysis and management with lecture, though the knowledge that is being disseminated often is lost at the most critical time: in the intersection.

Some programs try to teach students by taking them on the road and driving around in a non-emergency mode or by watching how their partner does it after joining a volunteer or other type of service.

These types of training are not effective in producing an adequate experience that the member can use in future incidents. The most effective way of training is through simulation, which works so well because the student is actively participating in the experience and not simply watching it or hearing about it.

Think about your last vacation — it’s a lot more fun experiencing it than looking at someone else’s photos.

When training in intersection analysis, it is important to cover all three concepts of the “Triangle of Training:"

  • Knowledge — lecture-based information
  • Skill — vehicle and roadway dynamics
  • Judgment — active participation in a virtual world environment

Remember to stop at the intersection. No one remembers that you were 10 seconds later arriving on scene but no one ever forgets when you don’t get there at all.

Drive like your life depends on it.


1. Biggers WA, Zachariah BS, PE Pepe: “Emergency medical vehicle collisions in an urban system.” Prehospital Disaster Medicine. July–September 11(3):195–201, 1996.

About the author:

Robert Raheb has been in the EMS field for 31 years and currently is the emergency response subject matter expert for FAAC, Incorporated. As a Firefighter in California, he became a paramedic working in NYC for 27 years and a NYS Instructor Coordinator for 21 years. Introduced to simulation training in 2003, Rob Raheb discovered he had an intuitive skill creating effective simulator training curricula. Realizing the benefits and potential training abilities this high-tech tool held, simulation training has added a new and exciting dimension to his vehicle training program and those benefits were obtained with a 38 percent reduction in intersection collisions within the first year and a steady decline every year since. Robert can be reached at