Real Stories Behind Ambulance Safety Data

NHTSA and Minnesota EMS provider team up to talk safety from the local and national perspectives

Data collected by NHTSA verifies that wearing a seatbelt in an ambulance improves safety for both care providers and patients.

At NHTSA, the Office of EMS uses data to delve deep into the challenges and opportunities facing the EMS profession today. Examining the huge amounts of information available in electronic patient care records, crash reports and other sources will help EMS provide care that is more effective and safer for both patients and providers.

But behind each of those data points are real people.

No one understands that better than the paramedics, EMTs and support staff at Allina Health EMS in Minnesota. In the early hours of January 18, 2014, they came close to losing two colleagues and a patient when an Allina ambulance and another vehicle collided head-on during a snowstorm.

"Some 1,600 miles from the crash scene, my cell phone rang around midnight," wrote Brian LaCroix, Allina’s EMS chief, in the September issue of EMSWorld magazine. "It was a dreadful call to receive...."

Fortunately, both Allina providers survived the collision, but not before suffering critical injuries that led to long recoveries. The patient, safely secured to the cot with shoulder and lateral restraints, was not hurt in the crash.

In an article that accompanied LaCroix’s personal retelling of the crash, Noah Smith from NHTSA’s Office of EMS shared the national perspective on ambulance crashes and safety." LaCroix and Smith also presented together on the topic of ambulance safety at the EMSWorld Expo in September.

Smith reported on the efforts at NHTSA to analyze ambulance crash data in order to find ways to keep patients and providers safe. What they have discovered should come as little surprise: buckling up saves lives. Unfortunately, many EMS providers and patients were not properly buckled at the time of an accident, putting everyone in the back of the ambulance at risk.

"We found that whether ambulance occupants wear seat belts or not significantly predicts the severity of occupant injuries and fatalities," Smith wrote. "And unbelted providers are doing more than just getting injured: They also risk injuring their patients. Occupant-to-occupant contact was identified as a source of the injuries sustained by patients, and in at least two cases, these injuries were fatal."

NHTSA analyzed two decades of records from serious ambulance crashes, both from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which collects information from police records, and from investigations conducted by the NHTSA Special Crash Investigations program.

At the EMS World Expo presentation, attendees received copies of the new ambulance safety infographic, which can be viewed and downloaded online. Smith encouraged attendees of the session to share the information with others by displaying the infographic in their agencies and talking about how important it is to secure patients and wear seatbelts.