Emergency vehicle and roadway operations safety

Sixteen percent of on-duty firefighter fatalities occur each year while responding to or returning from incidents, with the majority of fatalities resulting from vehicle crashes. Vehicle collision is the second leading cause of firefighter fatalities.

We are committed to reducing firefighter fatalities and injuries by helping to create a safer operational environment for emergency responders. The resources below contain best practices and recommendations for safer emergency vehicle and roadway incident response.

Our latest report: Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative (2014)

A study of public safety emergency vehicle and roadway operations

Since the release of our publication “Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative (2004),” we have worked with many fire service organizations and the law enforcement community to increase emergency responder safety in this area.

Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative (2014)

Our latest study report, “Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative (2014),” consolidates the results of this work and provides best practices and recommendations for safer emergency vehicle and roadway incident response.

Download "Emergency Vehicle Safety Initiative (2014)"


Topics covered include:

  • Common crash causes and crash prevention.
  • The impact of vehicle design and maintenance on safety.
  • Internal and external factors for improving response-related safety.
  • Regulating emergency vehicle response and roadway scene safety.
  • Roadway incident scene safety.
Project sponsors: U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Justice, International Fire Service Training Association, U.S. Fire Administration

Emergency vehicle and roadway operations safety resources

Studies and reports


“Best Practices for Emergency Vehicle and Roadway Operations Safety”. Serves as a basic guide for all firefighters and law enforcement officers to improve their level of safety at work. It discusses training, policy development, education and technology to enhance emergency vehicle and roadway safety operations.

“Developing Traffic Control Assistant Training Programs” PDF 1.7 MB. Provides information and guidelines for the training and use of volunteers in fire or police department traffic control units to protect responders and the public at vehicle crashes, fires, or at special events in the community.

“Safe Operation of Fire Tankers” PDF 2.1 MB. Examines the various causal factors identified as problematic for tankers and their drivers. Tankers account for the largest number of firefighter crash deaths of all types of fire department vehicles.

“Traffic Incident Management Systems” PDF 5 MB. Describes the latest technologies, training, and operational practices for effective traffic incident management.

Vehicle and responder visibility

“Effects of Warning Lamp Color and Intensity on Driver Vision” (PDF 1.8 MB | Flash Presentation). Colors and intensities of warning lamps that influence both positive and negative effects of such lamps in daytime and nighttime conditions are examined.

“Effects of Warning Lamps on Pedestrian Visibility and Driver Behavior” PDF 1 MB. A nighttime study of emergency warning lighting examining colors, intensity, and flash patterns of warning lamps. The resulting desirable (visible) and undesirable (glare) effects are shown.

“Emergency Vehicle Visibility and Conspicuity Study” PDF 2.2 MB. Examines the use of retroreflective striping and chevrons, high-visibility paint, built-in passive light, and other reflectors for law enforcement patrol vehicles, fire apparatus, motorcycles, and ambulances and other EMS vehicles. Best practices in emergency vehicle conspicuity, including cutting edge international efforts, are reviewed.

“Inferences about Emergency Vehicle Warning Lighting Systems from Crash Data” PDF 15 KB. Examines motorist disorientation caused by emergency warning lighting and lighting effects on normal, impaired, and drowsy drivers (also known as the "moth effect").

“Seeing and Stopping Distances” PDF 72 KB. Demonstrates that detection distances for pedestrians and emergency responders operating on the roadway at night wearing typical clothing are very short, while detection distances when wearing retroreflective markings are very good.

Educational programs

“Emergency Vehicle Safe Operations for Volunteer and Small Combination Emergency Service Organizations” PDF 22 MB. Includes a best practices self-assessment, example standard operating procedures, and behavioral motivation techniques to enhance emergency vehicle safety.

“Guide to Model Policies and Procedures for Emergency Vehicle Safety”. Aimed at reducing the impact of vehicle-related incidents on the fire service and the communities they protect. It provides information for developing policies required that support the safe operation of emergency vehicles, as well as privately-owned vehicles.

“Improving Apparatus Response and Roadway Operations Safety in the Career Fire Service”. Includes topics such as seat belt use, intersection safety, roadway operations on crowded interstates, and driver training.

Free publication Alive on Arrival: Tips for Safe Emergency Vehicle Operations

This flyer provides information on the basics of emergency vehicle and roadway operations safety, including the roles of drivers, passengers and the officer in charge.

Download PDF 705 KB

Learn more on the Web

Featured resource

Respondersafety.com has free resources to help protect emergency responders at roadway incidents available in the following topic areas:

  • Advance warning
  • Blocking / Safe positioning
  • High visibility personal protective clothing
  • High visibility vehicle markings
  • Highway lane designations
  • Incident Command System and National Incident Management System
  • Line of duty deaths
  • National Unified Goal for Traffic Incident Management
  • Professional qualifications / Performance standards
  • Public education
  • Safety education materials
  • “Slow Down, Move Over” laws
  • Standard operating procedures and guidelines
  • “Struck By” incidents
  • Traffic incident management
  • Training

Respondersafety.com is managed by the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association, in partnership with the USFA and U.S. Department of Justice.