Unnecessary use of red lights and sirens in pediatric transport

Beech Burns, Matthew L. Hansen, Stacy Valenzuela, Caitlin Summers, Joshua Van Otterloo, Barbara Skarica, Craig Warden, Jeanne Marie Guise

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Introduction: Approximately 25.5 million pediatric patients are treated in Emergency Departments around the United States annually. Roughly 7% of these patients are transported by ambulance; of these, approximately 7% arrive in ambulances running red lights and sirens (RLS). Compared to those transporting without RLS, emergency vehicles employing RLS are involved in more accidents and are associated with more fatalities. Objective: To characterize the use of RLS in pediatric transports and identify factors associated with unnecessary use of RLS. Methods: As part of the Children's Safety Initiative (CSI-EMS), a large, multi-phased National Institutes of Health-funded study, we conducted a medical record review of all pediatric RLS transports in an urban EMS system over a 4-year period (2008-11). A standardized chart abstraction tool was adapted for the out-of-hospital setting and pilot tested. Charts were independently reviewed by physicians and paramedics, with disagreements arbitrated by a pediatric emergency physician. Reviewers were asked to judge whether RLS transport was necessary and to provide comments justifying their position. Descriptive statistics were used to measure the frequency of unnecessary transports and logistic regression analysis was employed to identify factors associated with unnecessary use of RLS. Results: Of 490 RLS transports, experts identified 96 (19.6%) as unnecessary use of RLS. Necessary and unnecessary RLS transports had similar patient sex and duration of transport, though unnecessary use of RLS tended to increase with patient age. The call reasons that represented the largest proportion of unnecessary RLS transports were trauma (49.0%), respiratory distress (16.7%), and seizure/altered mental status (11.5%). Compared with necessary RLS transports, unnecessary RLS transports were less likely to require resuscitation, airway management, or medication administration. Univariate analysis revealed that patient vital signs within normal limits were associated with increased risk of unnecessary RLS transport, with the most pronounced effect seen in the normal GCS score group (odds ratio 7.74, p-value 0.001). Conclusions: This analysis identified patient and transport characteristics associated with unnecessary use of RLS. Our results could help serve as the basis for designing and prospectively evaluating protocols for use of RLS, potentially mitigating the risk associated with transport in pediatric patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)354-361
Number of pages8
JournalPrehospital Emergency Care
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 3 2016


  • ambulances
  • emergency medical services
  • patient safety
  • pediatrics
  • transportation of patients

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Emergency


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