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Fewer summonses issued to drivers for blocking emergency vehicles: Traffic Police

The number of drivers summoned for failing to give way to ambulances and fire trucks has dropped. There were nine in 2013 - a 50 per cent drop from five years ago, according to Traffic Police data.

SINGAPORE: A video of a car refusing to give way to an ambulance in Singapore made the news in 2013 - the driver was given a S$160 fine and four demerit points. Cases like this have dropped, according to data from the Traffic Police.

In 2009, 19 drivers were summoned for failing to give way to emergency vehicles such as ambulances, fire engines and police vehicles. This number fell to nine in 2013, and in the first half of 2014, there were only three such cases.

However, one traffic expert said it is too early to celebrate. Gopinath Menon, adjunct associate professor at Nanyang Technological University, said: "They look encouraging, but what I feel is that maybe we're only catching the tip of the iceberg. We don't know exactly how many people are not giving way... If you take places like the US, Japan, and the UK, we're nowhere near that type of courtesy."

Paramedic Naomi Wee, who has been with the Singapore Civil Defence Force for six years, agreed. She said there's been no difference in motorist behaviour from three or five years ago. Ms Wee added: "Motorists are still a bit hesitant to give way to emergency vehicles. They wait till we're pretty close behind them before they would move over to the next lane."

The delay could be seconds, but if every car hesitates, it adds up - and in an emergency, every second counts.

The chance of surviving a heart attack drops by 10 per cent for every minute that passes - but it goes beyond that. After a heart attack, stroke, or traumatic injury, every second could determine the quality of recovery of the patient, and it could mean the difference between recovery and permanent disability.

"The brain will start to have irreversible brain damage after six minutes of no oxygen," said Ms Wee. "So even though the person may have survived, that does not necessarily ensure they're able to resume normal daily functions."

Education on the consequences of prolonging a medical emergency is crucial, but so is the more practical question of how to give way, especially in a traffic jam, said NUS sociologist Paulin Straughan.

She added: "This is something that unless you search for information, you would actually not be able to find it overtly. 'Give way to ambulance' is a thought process. So the next question is, how? So perhaps on (EMAS electronic signboards), graphics could show what cars should be doing."

There were close to 150,000 emergency calls for help in 2013.

Since congestion on the roads is not likely to ease, whether Singapore's emergency services can do their life-saving work well will depend, increasingly, on the goodwill of other drivers.

Addressing this, Ms Wee urged motorists to spare a though for those in the ambulances.

She said: "I would like motorists to always put themselves in the place of the patient's family members, who are sitting in the front with us, and ask yourself - if that were your loved one in the ambulance, how would you respond and how would you want other motorists to respond."

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