Distracted Driving was the cause of 8,000 wrecks in Texas in 2011; 361 of those crashes were fatal. Local first responders say distracted driving can not only be deadly---it can also impact emergency response times.
College Station Fire Department Captain Joe Warren said, “Time is everything,” when it comes to medical emergencies.
“It’s entirely dangerous; our policy allows for us to go 10 mph over the speed limit -- except in Northgate and school zones,” said Warren. “If there is a red light, we stop at the red light; and if there is a stop sign then we stop at a stop sign.”
But when time is not on your side – it is the little things and courtesies that could mean life or death.
“We have to watch our back, we never turn our back on the traffic,” said Warren.
Captain Joe Warren has been with the College Station Fire Department for 29 years and says he's seen it all.
“The number one thing we see is people texting, talking on the cell phone, putting on makeup and doing their hair,” Warren explained. “When we're responding to emergency in traffic, we're asking the public for the right-a-way. That doesn’t mean you have to give it to us.”
Those distractions lead to dangerous situations for first responders.
“When we're responding and you see an emergency vehicle approaching you from behind, you need to pull over to the right side of the road; we're trained to go to the left of the vehicle,” said Warren.
A YouTube video out of New York reveals a distracted driver plowing into a group of first responders on the side of the road. Watching videos like this one is something that Warren says happens all too often.
“In Robertson County we had one of our firefighters get run over during an accident. We had just extricated the patient from the vehicle and at the time we were assisting the sheriff’s office as well as DPS,” Warren explained. “And then all of a sudden this driver came through and didn't see the firefighter and the firefighter didn't have time to move out of the way, and so the driver ended up running him over and he broke both of his legs. I remember it took a very long time for him to recover from that.”
Warren showed News 3 dash-cam video from an incident involving a CS Firefighter/Paramedic.
“The firefighter that's driving, she's transporting a patient to St. Joseph Hospital and you can see in the video she’s signaling to take a right hand turn on Texas Avenue and then this driver just pulls out right in front of her,” Warren added.
The driver not only clipped the ambulance -- it caused a delay in transporting the patient.
“In that situation we had to wait for another ambulance to arrive so that we could switch ambulances and continue transporting the patient to the hospital,” said Warren. “Then we had to call another crew out to the scene so that they could assess the wreck involving the distracted driver who hit the ambulance.”
Warren said driver “rubber-necking” also leads to accidents.
“Everyone is always looking at the accident; and it’s one of the reasons that you'll see us blocking the lane the accident is actually in -- plus another lane -- and then we'll put the engine there since it's the biggest vehicle,” Warren explained. “It may cause a little traffic, but we're doing it to protect ourselves and the safety of the public.”
Last year College Station Fire & EMS responded to 4,690 calls; and in an effort to improve safety during medical responses, the city implemented what’s called, “Traffic Opticom” devices which transmit signals from the ambulance to the traffic light.
Texas and Holleman is just one intersection equipped with a transmitter device; it helps pre-empt the traffic light once it learns an ambulance is rolling through.
“The Opticom device will allow the traffic in front of us to go through, which will then allow us to go through,” said Warren. “This helps us significantly so that we do not have to take on-coming traffic or force other people out of the way."
Warren hopes distracted drivers will change their bad habits which will result in safer roads for all parties involved.