Inconsiderate drivers who block ambulances put patients’ lives at risk
Give way? No way A driver of a blue Honda was captured on video refusing to give way to an ambulance, despite the ambulance's blaring siren and flashing red lights -- PHOTO : YOUTUBE SCREENGRABS

A MATTER of minutes makes the difference between life and death for some.

Yet it seems that this weighs little on the minds of inconsiderate drivers.

A video of a blue Honda Airwave caught blocking the way of an ambulance has been making the rounds online. It has more than 52,000 views as of last night.

The video, which was taken on March 14 and uploaded to YouTube the day after, shows the ambulance repeatedly sounding its sirens to little effect.

The Honda driver seemingly refused to let it pass, either because the driver was oblivious or simply chose to ignore the ambulance, which sounded its sirens on three occasions before trying to overtake the vehicle from the left.

At this point, the ambulance driver can be seen gesturing angrily at the car driver, before the driver finally relented.

Mr Arthur Toh, director of operations at AME Ambulance Services, said this is a daily occurrence.

“Fifty per cent of drivers won’t bother giving way when they see a private ambulance,” he said. “Even with the sirens on, only about 80 per cent of drivers make the effort to give way.”

Consequences

For ambulance operators, this is an issue that has serious consequences.

Sirens, according to Mr Toh, are never employed unless the patient on board is in a critical state, and even then, they can only hope that drivers do the right thing and allow them to pass.

“There’s nothing we can do if the vehicle ahead of us doesn’t give way,” he said.

“(My drivers) take down the licence plate number of the obstructing vehicle, but most of the time the medics are too focused in getting to the destination in the quickest possible time to lodge a complaint.”

Lawyer Ravinderpal Singh, of Kalco Law, said that it may be an offence to obstruct an emergency vehicle.

“If it blocks the emergency vehicle, it may cause injury to the person inside,” he said.

“This may then amount to an offence under the Penal Code for negligence and is also covered by the Civil Defence Act.” Under the Civil Defence Act, it is an offence to obstruct a person carrying out or performing his duties under the Act, and carries a fine not more than $5,000 or imprisonment for up to six months, or both.

But it seems that many offenders get off lightly, with many ambulance drivers and operators finding it not worth the hassle to report them to the authorities.

Most private ambulances are not fitted with video cameras, making it hard to catch these offenders in the act.

Motorist Jason Ong, 20, said: “I think it’s basic courtesy to give way to an ambulance, no matter if the siren is on or not.”

Private ambulance operators TNP spoke to estimated that out of every 20 cases that they cater to daily, at least one will face uncooperative drivers on the road.

According to the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), there were at least seven cases of ambulance obstruction cases submitted to the Traffic Police in 2011. It is not known how many of these cases were prosecuted.

Ambulances employed by SCDF are outfitted with a dashboard camera which can be used to review obstruction cases.

Other cases

IN 2011, 55-year-old businessman Lee Khoon Bok suffered heart failure near the East Coast Food Centre during a run and died three hours later.

The ambulance he was in was stuck in traffic, reportedly because some drivers did not give way even though the ambulance’s lights and sirens were on.

In 2010, cabby Tan Teck San, then 46, was sentenced to two weeks’ jail for obstructing a public servant from discharging his duties.

His sentence was later halved after his appeal. Tan had parked his taxi behind an ambulance on Feb 20, 2009, resulting in paramedics being unable to load a stretchered patient into it.

In 2009, it was reported that 19 summonses were issued to motorists who did not give way to emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire engines.

It was twice that figure in 2008.