Drivers urged to give ambulances right of way

Updated: 2012-12-12 08:28

By Wang Qingyun (China Daily)

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 Drivers urged to give ambulances right of way

An ambulance is seen in a traffic jam during the morning rush hour in Beijing on Monday. Yang Yi / for China Daily

Victim dies when emergency vehicle gets wedged in gridlocked traffic

First aid workers in Beijing have called for more awareness of giving ambulances the right of way after an injured woman died in an emergency vehicle that got stuck in traffic on Friday.

Wang Yuzhu, a doctor at Beijing Emergency Medical Center, posted a message on her micro blog on Friday saying the woman died during a 3-km trip that took more than 40 minutes because of a traffic jam.

The middle-aged woman was severely injured when she was hit by a truck in the Haidian district, Wang said. She was in critical condition when paramedics arrived at the accident scene around 6 pm.

"She was breathing three to four times a minute, and we could hardly feel her pulse," Wang said, adding that the woman's severe condition made it impossible to carry her to a hospital on foot. There was heavy traffic on the road, and the ambulance had to "stop every once in a while", Wang said.

Wang said she continued performing CPR on the woman, even after she stopped breathing, but was unable to revive her.

"What hampered us the most was cars parked illegally in a bicycle lane. Because of them, we couldn't go through the lane," Wang said. "If the cars in front of us had been able to move a little bit, we might have been able to go farther.

"Some drivers wanted to make room for us, but they didn't have enough space or skill. Others didn't bother to try because of the traffic jam. For us to get through, most of the cars would have had to move out of the way."

Luo Yi, director of the center's medical affairs department, said traffic jams occur often and there is little that first aid workers can do when ambulances become trapped.

"Sometimes the traffic is so bad that five rows of vehicles swarm on a three-lane highway, making it impossible for us to squeeze through," he said. "So we have never been able to promise to get to a patient within a certain amount of time."

Some people may hesitate to give ambulances the right of way because it will force them to break traffic rules, Luo said.

"For example, when a car stops at a red light but goes over the stop line to make way for us, the center needs to provide documents to traffic authorities to prove that he was justified to do that," he said. "The laws haven't stipulated how to proceed when a violation occurs under such circumstances."

Under the Law of Road and Traffic Safety issued in 2003, ambulances on an emergency run can violate traffic rules, and other motorists should give emergency vehicles the right of way. Those who violate the law are subject to fines.

However, the law has not been effectively enforced, partly because it's too general, said Zhang Zhuting, a professor at the Management College of the Ministry of Transport.

"For example, the law doesn't tell the public how to give ambulances on emergency runs the right of way," he said.

The Beijing government is working on a regulation to address the issue, said Cao Yu, deputy director of the emergency response office of the city's health bureau.

"We have made a draft, but it will need repeated discussions with other departments such as traffic authorities before the final version comes out for public review," he said.

Fan Da, deputy director of Beijing Emergency Medical Center, is skeptical the legislation will help ambulances move through traffic quicker.

"It's not realistic to expect that the regulation can alleviate the serious traffic jams in the city," Fan said. "If people don't have the mindset of giving ambulances right of way on the road, similar incidents will happen no matter how smooth the traffic becomes."

(China Daily 12/12/2012 page5)