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Sirens are Unethical
Posted: 15 March 2011 02:48 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I mean the warning sirens on emergency vehicles.

If a driver requires a siren to be alerted to the presence of a vehicle with bright flashing lights they should not be driving. I have, in twelve years of driving, never once been alerted to the presence of an emergency vehicle I needed to be aware of via sirens. Never met a blind guy that was allowed to drive, but deaf ones have no problem. Never met anyone that could give me an example where sirens would be benificial. Even in the most extreme case of an intersection surrounded by tall buildings, it is the flashing lights people will see and react to, unless they simply freeze two blocks away.

Let me be very clear on this point, if you are not aware enough of your surroundings to notice flashing red lights in front of you (your mirrors are also in front of you) then you are liable to kill someone on the road and for you to drive at all is stupid. And I consider stupid unethical.

Now, what about potential harm caused by the use of these sirens? Sirens advertise “something interesting over here” and people will flock to it. Injury lawyers, tabloid photographers and the casually curious all get in the way of emergency personnel. Possibly even causing traffic jams, thus delaying medical treatment or fire prevention.

Beyond that they also create the false impression that life is more dangerous than it is, that there are ‘bad’ people everywhere, and the media is only too happy to embellish this further. When you hear a siren every few hours you are left with the impression of living somewhere where something criminal is always happening, and it becomes normal. Despite the fact that said sirens are almost NEVER in response to an actual crime. The only exception to this is the infamous ‘pursuit,’ and still can’t fathom why those are allowed to get out of hand. We certainly have the technology to disable a vehicle from a helicopter.

Further, the sound is annoying and invasive by design. Emergency personel give zero consideration to what time it is, as well they shouldn’t, but there is absolutely no need to disturb sleeping people at 3:00 am when there are not even any cars on the road to siren for. Again, the only people that need to be aware of the presence of such a vehicle are drivers on or near the same road who would be adequetly alerted by the flashing lights.

Finally, and this is actually my biggest arguement against them, it is a misallocation of the purpose a warning siren may serve. There are threats that we need to be able to inform the population of in a hurry. Television and radio are great for relaying information, but do not grab the attention of people doing other things. A siren warning of impending disaster would save lives. Sometimes there is only a few minutes between the warning and the catastrophe, having a siren alerting everyone to this would give each person the best possible chance to protect themselves.

It is my conclusion that emergency vehicle sirens in thier current form do not serve any good, do cause harm, and are therefore unethical. If you see holes in my reason, I would appreciate the criticism.

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Posted: 15 March 2011 05:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I’ve been driving for a lot more than 12 years and I’ve never had a problem with them.  Then again, I don’t hear as well as most people do, so they don’t bother me.  I don’t even hear the weather warning sirens when I’m asleep.  Even so, I’m not sure what your beef is with sirens.  Nothing you’ve said supports your assumption, IMO, but then again, maybe I don’t count since I see more than I hear, despite not being deaf.  Just a little hard of hearing.

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Posted: 15 March 2011 05:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Well, I have had noticed an approaching ambulance due to its sounding sirens and that’s enough of a proof to me that they serve a purpose. What is also interesting here, is the fact that people eventually get used to the sound and start to ignore it (or rather, not notice it). The solution here is to come up with new patterns of sound, which supposedly they do.

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Posted: 15 March 2011 06:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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My point here is that using auditory cues are unreliable to the point of near uselessness in regards to driving, which is an excercise of visual perception and spatial awareness from inside a contained enviroment that produces its own sound (radio) as well as distorting sound that does come in enough that it is nearly impossible to ascertain the direction of origin. The exception to this being a short sharp ‘honk’ to wake up a sleeping (or distracted) driver. Horns are great, if used properly, but flooding a huge area with a blanket sound can completely drown out warning sounds that someone may need to hear, like a rattlesnake.

And at the same time as being functionally useless, they annoy and decieve people, cause panic in some drivers, and people become accustomed (as you noted George) to such sounds, which is unfortunate as they would be an excellent way to warn of a quake, flash flood, bomb threat or any potentially serious threat that warning the general population about would increase the chances of survival.

And George, if you are going to claim that you would not have seen that ambulance before you needed to react to it without the siren, may I suggest reconsidering driving? That level of awareness will kill someone, hopefully the driver, but far more likely someone else.

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Posted: 15 March 2011 06:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Huh. Seems to me sirens are essential particularly during the day when flashing lights are less apparent. They may not be so useful in rural or suburban areas but they’re essential in urban areas, since often one cannot see flashing lights around tall buildings or behind traffic. Particularly at intersections the ONLY thing that makes one aware of a fire truck, ambulance or police car in the other direction are the sirens.

And since they are protective both of the lives of bystanders and of the lives of people who need rescuing, it would be unethical NOT to use them, when necessary.

I also have never seen sirens attract cars, at least not in NYC where I live.

I should also add that often times emergency vehicles here run without sirens if they don’t feel they’re necessary. (E.g., if they’re going with the lights in light traffic).

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Posted: 15 March 2011 06:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I’ve been alerted to emergency vehicles by their sirens.  Typically when I’m coming up on an intersection or curve and can’t see them yet.

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Posted: 15 March 2011 06:34 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Stormy Fairweather - 15 March 2011 06:22 AM

And George, if you are going to claim that you would not have seen that ambulance before you needed to react to it without the siren, may I suggest reconsidering driving?

Yes, you may suggest it. On the same note, may I suggest reconsidering living in a city?

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Posted: 15 March 2011 06:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I don’t live in a city. And I must confess this may affect my experience with sirens, and the conclusions I reach based on my experience. However, I still cannot fathom a reason to use sirens when the ambulance driver is presumably a professional, horns can alert oblivious drivers (who should not even be driving) and people are almost always easier to move around when they aren’t trying to get out of your way.

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Posted: 15 March 2011 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I may have to ask my brother-in-law about what he thinks.  He was a paramedic for a while.

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Posted: 15 March 2011 06:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I would be very interested in what he has to say.

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Posted: 15 March 2011 08:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Stormy Fairweather - 15 March 2011 06:55 AM

I don’t live in a city. And I must confess this may affect my experience with sirens, and the conclusions I reach based on my experience. However, I still cannot fathom a reason to use sirens when the ambulance driver is presumably a professional, horns can alert oblivious drivers (who should not even be driving) and people are almost always easier to move around when they aren’t trying to get out of your way.

The problem is that we react differently to the sound of some jerk leaning on his horn rather than the sound of a siren, which by law is a sound only emitted by emergency vehicles. In the former case we generally are annoyed and don’t budge. The latter case tells us there is some reason to get out of the way. (In fact, we’re legally obligated to get out of the way). The sounds need to be different so we can tell which is which. The latter is a siren.

And as I say, the notion that only incompetent drivers wouldn’t be aware of an emergency vehicle running down a side street is simply false. Though of course this will only happen in urban areas.

Nor would even the most competent drivers be aware of an emergency vehicle running only with lights in a traffic jam, particularly during the day. And to that one must add the aggravation factor: people in a jam will tend to move out of the way faster from a car with sirens than from a car that’s just got lights on. At least that’s my hypothesis.

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Posted: 15 March 2011 09:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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I would comment that emergency vehicle horns (at least fire trucks) have a distinct sound that serves to distinguish it from some jerk.

As for the side street/green light examples, in both of these situations I would expect the driver of said emergency vehicle to be good enough, and alert enough, to know how fast he can safely traverse the obstacles. And I doubt that the maximum he could safely go would change with sirens, as hoping people will move out of the way in such a situation would be irresponsible. Remeber, the people driving these vehicles are expected to be the best drivers we can produce.

In many cases I think it would actually be lower. If drivers are following the rules of the road you can generally predict thier actions, it is reactions that are unpredictable. I think an emergency vehicle should move through traffic, rather than forcing that traffic to move.

And if someone ain’t moving, emergency vehicles are pretty heavy pieces of equipment, move ‘em. Two or three repair bills would straighten most people out.

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Posted: 15 March 2011 09:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Oh, this was serious?

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Posted: 15 March 2011 09:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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I usually hear emergency vehicle before I see the emergency lights. When I hear the siren, I scan the area to figure out where it is coming from so I can get out of its way. As someone who made a living riding in those same emergency vehicles for 10 years, I can appreciate the sense of urgency it expresses. FYI there are three levels of emergency. First you have a regular deployment where there is no light, no siren and you obey the prevailing traffic rules. Code II is where the lights are flashing and there is some sense of urgency where you want vehicles to get out of your way, but you are still obeying the traffic lights. CodeIII is not used frivolously. Most ambulance related accidents occur with a Code III deployment, mostly because some idiot did not get out of your way, or was not paying attention. We have to sit on benches in the back of the ambulance. We have on lap belts, but in an accident, we are the ones who are most injured. We never go Code III unless we think it will make a difference in the survival of the patient. Running in an ambulance going Code III is scary, and the drivers need permission to do it. It is not done on a whim. I cannot speak for the police or fire trucks, but I would imagine there is some rule for them too. All of the emergency vehicles used to use the same siren. It was changed about 20 years ago, because they could not hear each other and there were ambulance/fire engine/police car accidents and fatalities since they have no way to talk to each other to know where the other emergency vehicles are traveling.

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Posted: 15 March 2011 10:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I was aware of the different levels of emergency (if not the names), but the cost/benifit ratio of code three is exactly what I am challenging. Putting the lives of an ambulance crew and everyone else on the road at risk to help one person is NOT worth it. Not even if that person is me.

I would wager that a factor in many of those code 3 accidents was a either the driver assuming people heard and responded properly, or somone hearing and reacting unpredictably. And both of these would be eliminated with the removal of auditory sirens.

Sidenote - On your sigs…. wouldn’t a man with absolute power be uncorruptable?

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Posted: 15 March 2011 10:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Stormy Fairweather,

Why don’t you start with some research first? I am sure there is a lot of effort put into the study of the conduct of the emergency vehicles and all you need to do is to find it. I know pseudopsychology à la Malcolm Gladwell can be very amusing to many, but this form of approaching a question of interest is just a waste of time. Get some books.

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