Texas Governor Greg Abbott recently signed Texas House Bill 129 into law. The bill specifically prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle that resembles an emergency medical services vehicle UNLESS it is being used as an ACTUAL emergency medical services vehicle by either an EMS agency, police, or fire for the purpose of providing emergency medical services. The text of TX HB 129 is as follows:
Sec. 773.017. USE OF CERTAIN EXTERNAL MOTOR VEHICLE MARKINGS OR FEATURES PROHIBITED; CRIMINAL OFFENSE.
(a) A person may not operate a motor vehicle in this state that resembles an emergency medical services vehicle unless the person uses the motor vehicle:
(1) as an emergency medical services vehicle under this chapter; or
(2) for other legitimate governmental functions, including police or firefighting services.
(b) A motor vehicle resembles an emergency medical services vehicle if the motor vehicle has on the exterior of the motor vehicle any of the following markings or features:
(1) the word “ambulance” or a derivation of that word;
(2) a star of life as trademarked by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration;
(3) a Maltese cross commonly used by fire departments;
(4) forward-facing flashing red, white, or blue lights;
(5) a siren;
(6) the words “critical care transport,” “emergency,” “emergency medical services,” or “mobile intensive care unit”; or
(7) the acronym “EMS” or “MICU”.
(c) A person commits an offense if the person violates this section. An offense under this subsection is a Class C misdemeanor.
(d) This section does not apply to a motor vehicle bearing a license plate issued or approved under Section 504.501 or 504.502, Transportation Code.
The legislature effectively lowers the demand for ambulances on the secondary market for conversion into other industries. Over the years we have seen many iterations of ambulances being used and marketed for purposes OTHER than that of rendering emergency care. While the popular majority of these iterations have been in the Food Truck industry, there have also been those that have been used for sex workers and for the spiritual care of souls. The conversion that helped inspire this legislation is the supposed “Slambulance“:
The Slambulance Limo is your own rolling nightclub! Call to book 214.559.7185 – Your most memorable night out awaits pic.twitter.com/cr8MGz4T80
— Slambulance (@Slambulance) March 27, 2015
The Slambulance reportedly featured a fog machine, stripper pole, mood lighting, and a BYOB wet bar. With the legislation that was signed into law, effective September 1, 2017 that vehicle along with any others would be illegal. Anyone found operating one would be could be criminally charged with a Class C misdemeanor.
While I think seeing these alternative uses of ambulances is a great deal of fun, I can completely understand why this legislation is important. With the acute lack of uniformity that already afflicts EMS, the ability to differentiate an actual emergency vehicle from a marketing scheme is more important than ever.