LOUISVILLE, Ky -- It's a business where every second counts - a business where getting to the hospital quickly can be the difference between life and death.
But police say drivers are putting emergency response vehicles and the patients inside at risk far too often.
WHAS11 captured several incidents of bad driving on video when we rode along with Louisville Metro EMS. We had a camera in a vehicle traveling behind an ambulance and another attached to back door.
In 2012 there were 56 incidents in Louisville involving ambulances. And it didn't take long to understand why.
It starts with a call that triggers a sequence of events. We spent an afternoon with Louisville’s 911 call center as they answered emergencies and forwarded the calls to dispatch. Call after call sending EMS crews into action.
It’s a business where every detail, every second could be the difference between life and death. If you were watching it all unfold, you'd get out of the way, but we found, with the help of EMS and a mobile camera, far too often people don't get out of the way.
"There are a lot of wrecks nationwide on ambulances,” Lt. Col. Lee Dennison said.
In 2012, in Louisville, 134 drivers didn't get out of the way including one driver at 7th and Chestnut where an ambulance was t-boned and flipped. 825 drivers in Kentucky were cited for failing to yield or following too closely behind an emergency vehicle.
“Obviously they have a whole lot going on when they're in that code three status. A lot of their vision is placed in front of them," explained LMPD Lt. Joe Seelye from Louisville Metro traffic division.
Many drivers have no idea what the law actually says. One driver we spoke to was under the impression you should be at least two car lengths back.
So how far back should you be? Two car lengths is about 30 feet, four car lengths is 60 feet and even that isn't even far enough away. Neither is a football field, 100 yards from end to end. You should be another 200 feet beyond before you even consider sliding in behind an ambulance.
"Right behind the ambulance you really can't see much," EMS Major Jenny Cravens said.
Major Cravens has made thousands of runs in her career. She allowed us to ride along behind an ambulance with our camera attached driven by her husband Carl. Carl locked down the camera and within minutes someone nearly ran into the back of the ambulance speeding past and honking as it went by. Both of the Cravens’ have seen more than their fair share of tailgating.
"Traffic is gridlocked because there is a wreck or something that we're trying to get to…if we get over in the emergency lanes or manage to get one of the lanes clear then I've had people who jump in behind us because traffic is moving out of our way and they'll follow behind us to that they can get through traffic quickly,” explained Cravens.
In just a few runs drivers violated that 500 foot space several times; twice drivers passed the ambulance on the right. Lt. Colonel Lee Dennison says often people who follow too closely behind an ambulance are family members.
"They'll try to follow and they'll try to run the red lights like the ambulance does," said Dennison.
"They're trying to get people to the hospital and save lives," explained Lt. Seelye. The precious cargo inside is counting on it. "It may be your family member that we're responding to or somebody that you know and sometimes those minutes do matter and if we can't get there in time the outcome may not be the same," concluded Jenny Cravens.
According to statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration around 200 people are killed each year in the United States in accidents involving emergency response vehicles.