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How trained in driving are Iowa ambulance drivers?

Picture driving down the highway: You hear an ambulance approaching with sirens blaring in the distance. You look ahead and in your review, wanting to make sure to get out of the way before the ambulance comes speeding past. The last thing anyone would want in this situation is a car accident.

In these situations, many Iowans might be surprised to learn the state does not require ambulance drivers to obtain special licenses in order to be able to operate ambulances. Rather, ambulance drivers only need a standard chauffer's license and a certification in emergency medical care. Those who are volunteering do not even need the chauffer's license. 

In the past four years there have been three fatal accidents in Iowa where the ambulance driver was later ticketed.

The most recent one was several years ago. The ambulance driver was rushing a patient to a Des Moines hospital. Two paramedics were also in the ambulance as it approached a semitrailer that was getting ready to make a left turn. However, when the truck driver saw the ambulance, the driver moved to the right lane in an attempt to let the ambulance pass.

However, at the same time the truck was moving over to the right, the ambulance was attempting to pass on the right. The two collided and the patient and a paramedic were killed in the crash. The ambulance driver was later found guilty for failing to use caution as an emergency driver and passing another vehicle too close to an intersection.

The driver was sentenced to probation, and after making an appeal regarding the state’s intention to revoke his paramedic certification, it was agreed he would not be allowed to drive an ambulance for six months. At this point, his paramedic’s license is on a probationary status.

In general, for many drivers on Iowa roadways, realizing these ambulance drivers are traveling at such high speeds without any specialty emergency driver licensing may be frightening. However, keep in mind that Iowa does insist ambulance drivers go through in-house training. This training requires practice actually driving the ambulance and a review of laws pertaining to emergency vehicles. Iowa is one of 11 states that require specialized training for ambulance drivers.

Additionally, in cases where there are accidents, there may be legal avenues available to hold those drivers accountable.

Source: Des Moines Register, “Iowa ambulance drivers cited for fatal crashes,” Clark Kauffman, April 6, 2013

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