Use of audible warnings by ambulance crews

The Driver Training Advisory Group (DTAG) make reference to the use of audible warnings in the current edition of the UK Ambulance Services Emergency Response Driver’s Handbook, as does the Police Federation Roadcraft, The Police Driver’s Handbook.

The use of emergency warning equipment is primarily used to:

1. Provide advance warning to other road users
2. Help you progress through traffic

Most other road users, on hearing the warning of an approaching emergency vehicle will try to give way, but the use of the warning equipment does not give you protection or right of way. You may take advantage if other road users and pedestrians give way to you, but only if it is safe to do so. Bear in mind that unwarranted use of emergency warning equipment can undermine its value.

Never assume that your warning will be seen or heard by other road users.

Sirens:

Most ambulances are fitted with electronic sirens that have the benefit of alerting people to the presence of an ambulance before they are able to see it.

Drivers of emergency vehicles have a duty to warn other road users of their presence and their intentions, by exposing to those who might benefit, any visual or audible warning equipment fitted to the vehicle. This should be balanced against the occasions when it offers more protection to deactivate audible warning equipment, for example when in stationary traffic, to replace intimidation with invitation. You should be aware that if you have emergency warning equipment fitted to a vehicle, the public have the right to receive the warning the equipment is designed to give.

You should assess when and where to activate your emergency equipment and in normal circumstances you should activate your emergency lights before using your sirens. Think carefully before activating your sirens if you are close to other road users, particularly cyclists, pedestrians or animals. If, in the light of your risk assessment, you decide not to use your emergency warning equipment (silent approach) take extra care because other road users may be less aware of your vehicle’s presence.

When using sirens, it is often not the noise but a change in noise that gets a reaction. It’s appropriate to use a long tone between hazards, but changing to a short tone on the approach to the hazard is likely to maximise the benefit of the warning.

Consider switching off the sirens in stationary traffic. This often takes the tension out of the situation and gives other road users time to consider what they might do to help. Sirens must be used intelligently in stationary traffic when there is the risk of threatening or forcing other vehicles to commit to a potentially serious manoeuver that they may not have committed in the absence of the emergency vehicle. In this case deactivation of the sirens must be considered.

If you believe that the vehicle in front may not have heard the siren, changing the tone may gain their attention.If you are travelling along a dual carriageway and making good progress you may risk assess that the sirens can be deactivated. However, if you are on windy roads you may risk assess the need to use your sirens to alert people who may be out of your vision.