Fly or Drive Criteria

When someone is seriously injured, EMS personnel need to decide whether transportation by ambulance or helicopter will get the patient to the trauma center sooner. There are several considerations:

  • Ground travel time to the nearest trauma center (e.g., distance, traffic congestion)
  • The helicopter's estimated time of arrival (ETA), transfer time, and flight time to the trauma center
  • Whether multiple patients are involved


Factors which should be taken into account are:

  • Ground transport should be used for an un-entrapped patient who is within 30 minutes ground travel time from a trauma center.
  • Entrapped patients are an exception to the 30-minute rule, if the helicopter can reach the scene while the patient is being rescued or extricated.
  • Consider requesting a helicopter for incidents involving more than three critical patients.
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Last Reviewed: 11/23/2022