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MIAMI – According to a survey released today by the National Safety Council and the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, 71% of U.S. drivers take photos or videos when they see an emergency vehicle on the side of the road responding to a fire or a crash, or simply making a routine traffic stop. Sixty percent post to social media, and 66% send an email about the situation – all while behind the wheel. Those distracting behaviors are markedly less frequent, but still alarming, during normal driving conditions – 24% of drivers surveyed said they take photos or video while driving, 29% admitted to using social media and 24% said they send email.
Worse still, 16% – more than 1 in 10 – said they either have struck or nearly struck a first responder or emergency vehicle stopped on or near the road. In spite of all this, 89% of drivers say they believe distracted motorists are a major source of risk to first responders.
NSC is releasing the survey during Distracted Driving Awareness Month, observed every April to raise awareness and educate about the importance of being attentive behind the wheel. Funding for the survey was provided to the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association through the FEMA Fire Prevention and Firefighter Safety Grant Program.
“The cruel irony is, we are putting the people who are trying to improve safety in very unsafe situations,” said Nick Smith, interim president and CEO of NSC. “Our emergency responders deserve the highest levels of protection as they grapple with situations that are not only tactically difficult but also emotionally taxing. Save your communications for off the road; disconnect and just drive.”
Thousands die each year in distracted driving crashes, though NSC investigations show these crashes are significantly underreported and undercounted. Emergency responders are particularly vulnerable, because they exit their vehicles and tend to situations on active roadways. In 2013, 37 people died in crashes involving ambulances, fire trucks or police cars, and an additional 17,028 were injured. Since January, 16 emergency responders have been struck and killed by vehicles. Sadly, 49% of survey respondents said possibly being struck by a vehicle is “just part of the risk” of being a first responder.
“The Emergency Responder Safety Institute was born 21 years ago following the tragedy of two highway incidents that took the lives of first responders who were struck while helping others,” said Greg Yost, President of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association, parent organization of the Emergency Responder Safety Institute. “Because of distracted driving, we’ve been focusing our efforts on educating drivers who are often not paying careful enough attention when passing emergency scenes. In 2019, already 16 responders have lost their lives and many others have been injured in these types of crashes,” he added.
Other important findings from the poll include:
“Those that serve the public are exposed to a number of risks, including risks from those that they serve,” said I. David Daniels, chair of the NSC Government and Public Sector Division, which initiated the NSC-ERSI partnership. “These two organizations’ joint efforts will most certainly help increase safety for public sector workers and reduce communities’ costs incurred from vehicle crashes involving public employees.”
The full survey and methodology are available at nsc.org/firstrespondersurvey. For more information about Distracted Driving Awareness Month, visit nsc.org/ddmonth.
About the National Safety CouncilThe National Safety Council is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to eliminate preventable deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy. Founded in 1913 and chartered by Congress, NSC advances this mission by partnering with businesses, government agencies, elected officials and the public in areas where we can make the most impact.
About the Emergency Responder Safety Institute The Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI), a Committee of the 118-year-old Cumberland Valley Volunteer Fireman’s Association, is an advisory group of public safety leaders and transportation experts committed to reducing deaths and injuries to America's emergency responders while working on the roadways helping others. The ERSI mission includes responder training as well as public education.
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