Blues and Two’s – It’s Up To You
There has been much discussion of late with regard to the use of blue lights and sirens on emergency ambulances. It has also been muted that there have been some complaints from members of the public who find the blue lights to be too bright and the sirens too loud. It could be argued that the complaints did not originate from critically ill patients or their relatives who dialled 999 and were desperately hoping the ambulance would arrive sooner rather than later, but let’s not go down that route, let’s look at it from outside of the box.
The responsibility for selecting which lights are employed and at what intensity rests solely with the driver. We cannot issue a directive that dipped headlights must be used at night instead of main beam, and in the same context we cannot issue a directive that the low power setting must be selected on ambulances during the hours of darkness or reduced visibility.
The driver of all and any vehicle is responsible for making sure that they:
All drivers should know:
how to use the gears even in a vehicle that is semi-automatic
where the switches are for windscreen wipers and washers
where the switches are for all lights and indicators they may need to use
where the buttons are for the horns / sirens they may need to use.
There is a 999 button which activates all the visible emergency warning lights. The control unit allows for the blue lights intensity to be reduced, and additional buttons allow for other functions to be deselected / reselected to accommodate the different driving conditions which may be encountered while driving under emergency road conditions. These buttons are there for the benefit of the person driving the ambulance, to allow for the driver to compensate for the weather conditions being experienced at the time and therefore create a safer environment for the driver. The driver should know where these additional buttons are and what functions they have.
Drivers should be able to decide if the weather conditions require the use of driving lights; the use of dipped, main beam or fog lights. Likewise, the driver should be able to decide whether to use the ambulance sirens. Having discussed this matter at great lengths with the Traffic Police, I have long held the following opinion.
When responding to a 999 emergency call, the driver should activate the blue lights which we are entitled to use. The use of the sirens should be based on the driver’s discretion and judgement in the same way that we should consider the use of the road horn; it is to warn other road users of our presence. If there are no other road users about should we be using the sirens?
On a straight road, in broad daylight with no hedges, obstructions, houses, bends, blind spots, no traffic, no pedestrians … do we need our sirens on? However; if we are travelling along winding rural roads and we cannot see clearly ahead due to bends, dips or housing, would the use of sirens give better warning to that farmer who is about to bring his harvester out onto the road… or are you more likely to come around the corner and encounter that slow moving vehicle because he could not hear you approaching?
The driver should be carrying out constant dynamic risk assessments of the ever-changing environment and this includes the use of the sirens. We are afforded the privilege of being able to use our sirens during the hours of darkness, butthe use of sirens in a built up area between 23.30 and 0700 hours is an exemption which may claimed but must be justified at the time when they are used. We should never abuse our exemptions, we should protect them.
Blue lights, Sirens and Speed go hand in hand. If one comes off, then speed should come off. You should always be able to stop safely in the distance you can see ahead to be clear. If visibility is reduced then so should your speed.
East of England Ambulance Service
Branch Health & Safety Officer