We all know that when an emergency vehicle approaches with its lights flashing and sirens blaring, other motorists should make way – and fast. But what if you cannot move quickly enough? What if you did not see the lights or hear the sirens before it was too late? What if there were no lights or sirens activated at all? As our South Florida injury lawyers can explain, state law allows for legal accountability in Florida emergency vehicle accidents in some circumstances. Proving it will likely require an extensive investigation, expert witness testimony, and an experienced legal team.
According to the National Safety Council, emergency vehicle crashes – those involving police vehicles, ambulances or fire trucks – caused 168 U.S. deaths in 2018. Of those, less than half (48 percent) occurred while the authorized vehicles’ lights and sirens were in use. Most of those who died were either an occupant of non-emergency vehicles or pedestrians (69%). Police vehicles were involved in the most fatal crashes (64%), followed by ambulances (28%), and then fire trucks (8%). These numbers provide some insight but do not give us a full picture as non-fatal crashes are not included.
F.S. 316.072 allows emergency vehicle operators some leeway when it comes to traffic rules. For example, they can proceed past a red light or through a stop sign – but only after slowing down as necessary for safe operation. They can exceed the maximum speed limit – so long as the driver does not endanger life or property. They can also disregard regulations governing direction, movement, or turning – but only so long as life or property is not endangered. Many departments also have written policies that outline the caution their employees should use when responding to an emergency.
What the law makes clear is that while these first responders are tasked with critically important duties for which seconds count, they do not have free reign to drive recklessly on our roads or needlessly endanger others.