Roadway safety concerns for emergency responders

The route to roadway safety for emergency service organizations

By The VFIS Team on December 12, 2022

What increased traffic incidents could mean for your ESO and what you can do to help protect your members on and along the roadways.

When most people think of the risks their crew faces, they likely think of burning buildings, violent patients, natural disasters and mass casualty incidents. But what they may not think about are the very real risks you face while you’re driving to each incident and responding to scenes along the roadways. Let’s take a look at the hazards your crew faces and review how your emergency service organization (ESO) can implement policies to help address them.

The alarming state of traffic fatalities

Newly-released estimates from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) show that 42,915 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2021—which isn’t only a 10.5% increase from 2020, but it also marks a 16-year high in traffic fatalities.

In addition to an overall increase in traffic fatalities, the NHTSA also reports the following categories showed relatively-large incident rate increases from 2020 to 2021:

  • Fatalities in multi-vehicle crashes up 16%
  • Fatalities on urban roads up 16%
  • Fatalities among drivers 65 and older up 14%
  • Pedestrian fatalities up 13%
  • Fatalities in crashes involving at least one large truck up 13%
  • Daytime fatalities up 11%
  • Plus, other traffic-related categories including motorcyclist fatalities, bicyclist fatalities, fatalities in speeding-related crashes and fatalities in police-reported alcohol-involvement crashes

Further, 2020 data from the National Safety Council (NSC) states that 180 people died in crashes involving emergency vehicles—and of those crashes, 31 ambulances and 17 fire trucks were involved.

The risk of responding to roadway incidents

These alarming roadway fatality statistics don’t only mean our drivers and passengers need to be more vigilant while operating vehicles—they also mean there are more roadway incidents for our crews to respond to.

This is a startling danger in its own right as the Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI) reports that 65 responders were struck and killed on the roadways in 2021, including nine fire and EMS personnel.

While there are many ways that your agency can begin to address these risks—focusing on your roadway response and driver safety policies, procedures and guidelines, training and culture is a great place to start.

Tips for safe roadway response

If your current traffic management policies and training neglect to address limiting exposure time, providing advance warning to motorists, creating a buffer zone, positioning blocking apparatus, lighting, establishing a flagger/spotter, operating in a “shadow work zone”, using interagency collaboration and wearing reflective vests—it’s likely time to reevaluate them.

Here are a few resources to help you get started:

Resources to help address driver safety

One way you can help ensure that your organization has the best possible drivers on the road to combat driving-related risks is to implement a comprehensive driver qualification program that includes SOPs and SOGs for safe vehicle operations, initial qualification standards, prequalifying and ongoing driver training and assessments, and a formal incident and near-miss review process.

Check out these tools to help your ESO build or evaluate your driver training program:

Addressing your safety culture

Whether you’re focusing on driver safety, roadway response or another risk entirely—your training and policies won’t get very far if your organization doesn’t have a top-down (and bottom-up) understanding and buy-in of them. That’s why your culture is so important.

"Culture is generally defined as the behaviors, attitudes, values and beliefs that are shared within a group or organization. It reflects the collective perception of right and wrong, good and bad, or desirable and undesirable actions and characteristics,” notes Everyone Goes Home, an initiative by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF).

So, ask yourself, do all of the members in your organization share the same beliefs and values in regards to the very real risks you face—and the role that training and policies have in helping you reduce those risks? And if not, what’s needed to bring a higher level of commitment to safety within your organization? Whether it’s a change in attitude, more education, increased accountability or something else—it’s important to put in the effort to develop a safety culture to help better protect your team.

The risks your team faces are everchanging, but all are very real and potentially dangerous. Putting in the work to address the hazards you face through your SOGs and SOPs, training and culture might be time consuming—but it won’t only help improve your operations but also help ensure “Everyone Goes Home.” We’re in this together.

Learn more about our driver training opportunities for emergency responders


The VFIS Team

VFIS is the largest provider of insurance, education and consulting services for fire departments, ambulance and rescue squads and 911 centers in North America, having pioneered the first tailored insurance package for this industry in 1969.


The information contained in this blog post is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace expert advice in connection with the topics presented. Glatfelter specifically disclaims any liability for any act or omission by any person or entity in connection with the preparation, use or implementation of plans, principles, concepts or information contained in this publication.

Glatfelter does not make any representation or warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the results obtained by the use, adherence or implementation of the material contained in this publication. The implementation of the plans, principles, concepts or materials contained in this publication is not a guarantee that you will achieve a certain desired result. It is strongly recommended that you consult with a professional advisor, architect or other expert prior to the implementation of plans, principles, concepts or materials contained in this publication.

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