Quieter Cars Cause Problems for First Responders

Emergency responders are finding that more drivers are failing to yield to their vehicles. It seems that new cars may be making in harder for drivers to comply with the law and pull over to allow first responders to pass.

New vehicles are more aerodynamic than ever, and are sealed for the quiet ride consumers like, but this is proving dangerous for emergency personnel.

Springfield’s Fire Department Captain Jeff Owings, who has been with the department for 15 years, is seeing cars fail to yield to fire trucks every day. He says, “Some of it can be attributed to modern day vehicles. How they’re tighter and more sound proof. People don’t want to feel the road anymorethey want to feel like they’re in a capsule, and in their own little world, so that happens.”

Blaring sirens recently measured with a decibel meter reached 104 outside. However, inside a car, the measurement was 20 decibels lower.

Springfield fire trucks have three types of sirens: one electric, one mechanical and one air horn. The electric siren delivers a constant pitch, the mechanical siren is controlled by a pedal, and the air horn is mostly activated at intersections.

Owings said, “Sometimes the electronic sirens, if you hear them from a great distance, they might be getting louder and louder, but there’s no real change in frequency and pitch. When you throw in something different like an air horn or a mechanical siren that you can control, then it tends to get people’s attention a little better.”

This is an important issue for his crews and for the community. “Every time that we respond out of here, it’s an emergency. It’s somebody out there in the public’s worst day, and they don’t know how to solve it,” says Owings. “When a driver impedes our flow, then it makes us just that much later. Seconds lost could mean the difference between life and death, when it comes to a heart attack.”

One of the biggest problems he sees is driver distraction. Owings suggests some simple solutions and practices for all drivers: always be aware of what is around you while driving, and pay close attention by keeping music low, not being distracted by your passengers, and not using a mobile phone while driving.

Police cars in Springfield have “rumblers” that have lower frequency sound waves that penetrate solid materials and can be felt. However, most ambulances only have electric sirens, and they are harder to hear. Again, it’s always up to drivers to be sure they are aware of other vehicles, and as cars become quieter, vigilance is more important than ever.

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