day finally arrives when all the practice is put to the test; which is often after a sleepless night constantly reviewing everything that we might possibly do wrong.
However, the numerous hours out on the road practicing the art of “safe driving” eventually pay dividends when the examiner hands over the pass notice. Deep joy and much relief.
As with all professionals, we take out role seriously and can be offended if anyone should chance a remark about the standard of our driving; but we should always remind ourselves that driving an ambulance has been likened to driving a large Christmas tree down the highway, often with all the disco lights on, so we stand out from all other driver and are easy to identify, unlike ‘white van man’.
The latest edition of “UK Ambulance Services Emergency Response Driver’s Handbook” reminds us that “ If a person drives a mechanically propelled vehicle on a road or other public place without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, they are guilty of an offence”(RTA 1988).
We are further reminded that “Drivers must know that, if a person is killed as a result of their driving dangerously, a custodial sentence will normally be imposed, no matter what the mitigating circumstances. No emergency, no matter how serious, will justify you being involved in an accident.”
With this in mind it is worth noting that in the UK, in the four years between 2005 and 2009, emergency vehicles “on call” were only cited as a contributory factor in 0.3% of fatal accidents, which is a very good reflection of the standard of driving during that period.
Ambulance Service drivers can claim exemptions to certain aspects of road traffic law when justifiable and when claiming any exemption we are reminded that “The following statement MUST apply in all cases:
The exemption can be claimed if the observance of that provision would be likely to hinder the use of the vehicle for the purpose for which it is being used on that occasion.”
Examples of exemptions which may be claimed include:
Remember, the “speed limit” is not the target speed which the vehicle MUST be driven at.
Another aspect to bear in mind involves driving under reduced visibility; whether it is in rain, mist, fog or at night, we should be able to stop our vehicle safely, so we should limit the speed at which we drive to be to the distance we can see to be clear in front of our vehicle, on our side of the road. On dipped headlights at night the distance can be greatly reduced from what we might see if were driving on main beam. It is also prudent to remember that driving with Blue lights on does not alert pedestrians and other road users who cannot see you; to give greater warning ahead of your route consider using the sirens. It is worth remembering “Siren Off – Speed Off”.
When approaching road-works, the use of sirens can alert the workers to your approach and may give them time to prepare for you by moving machinery or changing the Stop-Go boards. If you have to stop at the road-works, switch off the sirens until the workers indicate that it is safe for you to continue.
We should also bear in mind that we cannot claim exemptions from:
We can only claim exemption to crossing or straddling a solid white line, if the road ahead is clear, to pass a stationary vehicle, pedal cyclist, horse or road maintenance vehicle if they are travelling at 10mph (16kph) or less.
At all times when taking a vehicle onto the highway, the driver must ensure they are fully conversant with the vehicle controls by performing a pre-driving check to ensure the vehicle is legally roadworthy by carrying out a vehicle daily inspection.
Changes were made to the Lighting Regulations in 2005 and the changes include references to bicycle responders and mentions lights attached to wheels or in the pedals.
In the latest edition of “Roadcraft – The Police Driver’s Handbook” it notes that “changes have been made to make the book more applicable to the full range of emergency services who use larger vehicles such as Fire Engines and Ambulances for emergency response”. However, it continuethat “Roadcraft assumes that you are thoroughly familiar with the current edition of the Highway Code”.
The subject of tiredness is addressed and notes “Alertness is reduced if you drive at times when you would normally be asleep. Our reactions tend to be slightly slower in the morning than in the evening; that there is a dip in alertness after the midday meal and the greatest risk of tiredness-related collisions is between 23:00 – 06:00 hours.”
Chapter 13 is dedicated to Emergency Response driving offers supportive guidance accompanied by colour diagrams to give a clearer understanding of the scenarios discussed, which include junctions controlled by traffic lights and also roundabouts.
In closing, having read the latest edition of the Highway Code, The UK Ambulance Services Emergency Response Driver’s Handbook and also The Police Roadcraft Manual, I am of the mind that they will most likely not be made into a Spielberg blockbuster movie; however, they do contain the latest up to date information that could help us to maintain our standard of safe driving.