Rush hour traffic snarls slow down ambulances, put patients’ lives at riskAlthough traffic police try their best to clear the way, some drivers don’t help the cause.
It was around 5pm. Muktinarayan Suwal, 40, an ambulance driver, looked anxious and irritated. Sticking his head out of the window of his vehicle, he shouted at the drivers of vehicles nearby to give him way.
His appeals, however, were lost in the din of the chaos that prevails on the roads during Kathmandu’s rush hours. Due to the sluggish movement of vehicles, Suwal was forced to slam his brakes almost every minute. “The ambulance, despite the blaring siren, took almost one-and-half hours to reach the hospital in Baneshwor, from Pepsi Cola,” remembered Suwal.
Increasing traffic congestion on Valley roads may be a reason for frustration for commuters, but for the drivers such as Suwal and the patients he ferries, it’s a reason to panic as lives are at stake.
Traffic officials also believe that traffic congestions have increased the response time of emergency vehicles, like an ambulance.
Suwal, who has been working for Nepal Ambulance Service, said, “In the last five years, I’ve been stuck in traffic almost every day, especially during rush hours.”
Despite help from traffic police, it’s difficult for ambulance drivers to get out of long queues, he said. “Instead of giving way, many cars and bikes follow the ambulance to get out of heavy traffic, fast,” said Suwal. “So, I avoid the main roads during rush hours.”
Lalit Sigh Raikhola, 29, a health assistant at the emergency ambulance service (102), agreed with Suwal.
“When a patient is being transported to the hospital, he is already panicking. If the ambulance stops a lot, he is bound to panic even more,” said Raikhola.
“Although we provide preliminary medical services to the patients, in many cases, it may not be enough as they need immediate medical attention,” he said. “ Long waiting times could be deadly for patients.”
Superintendent Jeevan Kumar Shrestha, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Traffic Police Division, told the Post personnel are doing their best to clear the way for emergency service vehicles such as ambulances.
“We have trained our officers to prioritise emergency service vehicles such as ambulances as they need to reach their destinations quickly,” said Shrestha. “Even if the road is blocked, we allow ambulances to use the opposite lane.”
“Sometimes it could take time to clear the way, but we always try our best,” he added.
Amit Joshi, chief executive officer of Nepal Ambulance Service, said although traffic police personnel cooperate with ambulance drivers to clear their way, that’s not enough.
“People who don’t clear the way for ambulances to pass should be punished. They need to be fined,” said Joshi.
According to the Department of Transport Management, more than 200 ambulances are registered in the Valley.