Q: Every day I see ambulances, police cars, and fire trucks hauling ass down the road while masses of (mostly shitty) drivers scramble out of the way. Yet I’ve never seen an emergency vehicle crash or even bump into another vehicle, or a light pole, a parked car, etc. How often does it happen? —Jacquernagy, via the Straight Dope Message Board
A: Oh, often enough. In the early 00s, when an uptick in cop-car fatalities lined up with a long-running decline in violent crime, it was looking like vehicle crashes had replaced getting shot as the leading cause of line-of-duty death for U.S. law enforcement.
It’s not just cops, of course. A 2012 analysis calculated that there are about 3,100 fire-truck accidents each year, claiming about five firefighters’ lives. Vehicle crashes are also a big part of what makes firefighting the dangerous job it is. A study from 2015 compiling 20 years of data from the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration estimated an annual average of 4,500 ambulance crashes, a third of which result in injury. The yearly death toll for these crashes is approximately 33, but only a quarter of these happen inside the ambulance—the balance is borne by people who have the misfortune of being in the vehicle’s way.