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CAN DOCTOR’S EQUIP THEIR VEHICLES WITH RED EMERGENCY LIGHTS AND DISREGARD CERTAIN TRAFFIC LAWS WHEN TRAVELING TO A MEDICAL EMERGENCY? – MAYBE

Imagine you are laying in intensive care in a New York City hospital awaiting a life-saving heart transplant. Without the transplant, you will die. Now imagine a donor heart becomes available; it is flown in by helicopter as the members of your transplant team are notified to head to the hospital. The problem is, the surgeons and other specialists are not permitted to utilize red emergency lights or disobey certain traffic laws to speed their trip to the hospital even though your life hangs in the balance.
One would think that if an officer pulled over a surgeon for speeding on his or her way to a hospital for a medical emergency that the officer would escort the doctor to the hospital. Indeed, officers are taught that preserving life is always their first priority. Unfortunately, I have heard far too many complaints from doctors pulled over for speeding on their way to an emergency who, instead of receiving an escort from the officer, were delayed while the officer wrote a speeding ticket. Something is very wrong with a system that rightfully allows the Emergency Medical Technicians (paramedics) who drive the ambulance the dying patient is in to disregard certain traffic laws and regulations (VTL 1104) but does not extend the same privileges to the doctor who will perform those life saving procedures. Indeed, even sanitation patrol vehicles may disregard certain traffic laws and utilize emergency lighting and sirens. In other words, glorified garbage men have more priority than doctors in route to save a life. (See VTL 101 & 1104).
However, there might be legal way to classify a doctor’s vehicle as an authorized emergency vehicle thus allowing him or her to disregard certain traffic rules and regulation and to also utilize red emergency lighting. In People v. Levy, 188 Misc.2d 103, 727 N.Y.S.2d 248 (2001), the Appellate Term for the Second Department held that a volunteer ambulance service member’s vehicle qualified as “emergency ambulance service vehicle” as defined in VTL 101 because the defendant produced uncontroverted proof that the vehicle was affiliated with a volunteer ambulance service. Specifically, the defendant produced a dashboard placard showing that his vehicle was affiliated with a local private ambulance service.
Therefore, one way for doctors to legally equip their vehicle with emergency lighting and disregard certain traffic regulations in the event of an emergency is to associate their vehicle with the ambulance service operated out of their hospital or a private ambulance service operated in the area of their hospital or other medical location. One should not do this however, without first consulting with an experienced traffic court attorney that can review the law in more detail with them.
If you have received a ticket for any traffic violation/crime, such as speeding, contact Tilem & Campbell toll-free at 1-877-DR-SUMMONS (1-877-377-8666) or visit us at www.DrSummons.com.

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One response to “CAN DOCTOR’S EQUIP THEIR VEHICLES WITH RED EMERGENCY LIGHTS AND DISREGARD CERTAIN TRAFFIC LAWS WHEN TRAVELING TO A MEDICAL EMERGENCY? – MAYBE”

  1. James Guarrera says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I am a transplant surgeon in NYC and I can tell you from experience that I get called in from home for even more emergent types of scenarios where 10 minutes can really make the difference between life and death. Frequently the “super surgical specialists” get called by other surgeons and physicians to come to the aid of fully trained surgeons dealing with complex trauma injuries such as heart, liver or vascular surgeons. The ability to get in quickly can really make a difference. I would say something like this happens in my division at least once a month!

    Personally, I am doing as you suggested and those like myself would be wise to do so. It may save a life!