Emergency Medicine Doctor Says Self-Driving Ambulances Could Soon Be Reality

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Uber is testing self-driving cars in Pittsburgh.

But cars are one thing. What about self-driving ambulances?

A local expert in emergency medicine says it’s not only possible, but likely to happen, and sooner than you may think.

“I think it’s a question of not if but when,” said Dr. Paul Porter, Allegheny Health Network Emergency Medicine Physician.

He believes self-driving ambulances will improve care by allowing both paramedics to help a patient rather than having one of them have to drive.

“I think it’s a positive thing,” said Dr. Porter. “In my experience as an Army flight surgeon, most of the error was human error.”

Uber is testing self-driving cars on Pittsburgh streets, but at this point, still with a person behind the wheel as a precaution.

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Dr. Porter says Google and a French company worked together to mock-up autonomous ambulances several years ago.

But some people are unconvinced: “I think it’s all crazy,” said one woman from the North Side.

And, in fact, a study done by a school in Florida found that people were significantly less willing to ride in a driverless ambulance than a regular one. It also found women were less willing than men to give it a try.

But Dr. Porter says autonomous ambulances have other advantages such as picking the safest, quickest route.

“In many municipalities, ambulances already have the ability to change traffic signals,” said Dr. Porter. “So imagine combining that with the most effective route and people getting to us faster.”

Dr. Porter says we’ll likely see self-driving cars and cargo trucks before we see self-driving ambulances. But he estimates an ambulance that will drive itself may only be five years away.

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