Monday, March 07, 2005

please don't run us over

As I was doing laundry last night, I caught bits and pieces of the 10 o'clock news, and heard about a bill going through the Alabama Legislature right now. It's a simple piece of legislation, designed to protect emergency workers. Simply put, if there is an emergency vehicle on the side of the road, with it's emergency lights on, a driver must change lanes to avoid driving in the lane nearest the vehicle. Failure to do so could result in a ticket and a fine.

A similar law has been in effect in Indiana for about 3 years now. It was passed when during one particularly bad year for state troopers, 3 were struck by motorists and killed during traffic stops on the side of highways. The Indiana law requires motorists to either change lanes, or slow down, depending on the circumstance. Failure to do so is punishable by ticket and fine.

The Alabama bill has passed one house of the Legislature, and is now on the docket of the other. I hope that it passes, because there needs to be some sort of penalty for drivers who fly by a stopped emergency vehicle without a thought.

I can't count the number of times I've been working a vehicle accident on the side of the road, with the rescue truck parked on the shoulder or partially in a lane of traffic, and motorist drive by inches from my truck at full speed. Nine years ago, as a trainee working the rescue unit, I was luck enough to get a working entrapment on the interstate on my first shift. The wreck was on the inside shoulder, the vehicle had hit the center concrete divider. My job was what we affectionately call "tool bitch", as a trainee I fetched tools. Whatever the other 2 people of our 3 person crew needed, I got it. As I was going back to the truck to get something, I was nearly killed. A driver, impatient from the traffic jam created by the wreck, zipped around the wreck, swerved into the lane I was walking, narrowly missing hitting me. My first day, on my first wreck, and I was almost hit by a car. Why? Someone was in a hurry, and I almost became a statistic.

I'm careful about where I put myself on a scene, and now that I'm a crew leader (a shift supervisor essentially) I'm careful about where I park the truck. I park so the truck is between the wreck and traffic whenever possible, to create a barricade. Other emergency responders, such a the fire department, ambulance, police do the same, for the same reasons. I would much rather that truck get hit than myself, my crew, my patient. Even so, we still have to put tools up when it's all over, at which point someone is going to be exposed to a higher risk of being struck by a vehicle. It's a risk all emergency workers take, and have to accept. We're as careful as we can be, but that isn't always enough. We can't control what someone else does. With this legislation, police can write a ticket, and courts can issue a fine for someone not doing what he/she can to minimize their risk to us.

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