Virginia State Police say an ambulance driver fell asleep behind the wheel shortly before running off the side of I-81 through Salem, VA, at around 4:30 am on October 1, 2015. The single-vehicle rollover crash injured all three people aboard the medical transport, including a patient and an EMT who were riding in the back. All the victims are expected to survive.
According to news reports, the ambulance drive lost consciousness, jerked awake, overcorrected his steering while attempting to stay in his lane, and wound up crossing two lanes of traffic before running up an embankment and overturning. No details were released on whether the driver was simply fatigued or if he had suffered some kind of medical emergency that led him to drift off.
Regardless of why the ambulance fell asleep while moving along the interstate, the results cannot be excused. All drivers must remain conscious and alert in order to avoid placing the lives of others at risk. This duty is even higher for emergency medical services personnel. They cannot fulfill their mission to save lives if they are too drowsy or physically unwell to stay awake when transporting patients.
The timing of the accident in Salem also points to a stark reality for EMTs, commercial truck drivers and others who find themselves driving between the hours of midnight and 6 am: Being properly rested and in good physical condition are musts for overnight workers. Getting enough sleep during off-work hours, taking frequent breaks to rest and refocus, and sometimes even staying out of the driver's seat altogether are necessary to keep everyone safe.