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Drive Safely

The key issue here is that all DRIVERS are required to drive their vehicles, regardless of being on a routine or emergency call, to the expected standard of a professional driver. This expected standard includes taking into consideration and making allowances for fixed, moving and environmental hazards.

These hazards include, but are not limited to:
Other road vehicles going in the same direction
Other oncoming road vehicles
Cyclists, horses and pedestrians

Additionally, the driver must take into account:
tall trees dropping water and leaves onto the road
tall trees casting shadows across roads preventing ice from melting or rain water from drying
High buildings casting shadows across roads (ditto)
Hump back bridges to go over or under
Single and multiple bends to negotiate
Changes from multiple to single lane carriageways onto unmade road surfaces

And finally the driver must take into account the changes in the weather. Previous dry spells allowing oil to gather in road surface dimples, Wet spells bring the oil to the surface and create a surfactant agent. Frost, ice and snow on roads reduce traction and hide the road edge & road markings. Add to the list any rain fall, hail or snow and vision is further reduced.

Taking all this into consideration (and not wishing to teach anyone how to suck eggs) our ambulance drivers are also acutely aware that they are responsible for the safety of their crew partner. Place a patient in the rear saloon area and that will increase the driver’s responsibilities ten-fold.

Throughout this piece I have referred to the driver’s responsibilities and what the public expects of them. The over-riding consideration that one should expect of ANY driver is that they can safely stop their vehicle within the distance that they can see ahead. With the removal of street lighting in numerous parts of our region, our drivers rely heavily on their vehicle headlights at night and in reduced visibility. To drive with main beam on would be advantageous, but the presence of oncoming traffic and other road users may prevent this. In this situation one would expect the driver to drive on dipped headlights. When driving on dipped headlights the distance of clearly illuminated road ahead is substantially reduced therefore I would not expect or encourage ANY driver to drive as fast on dipped as they might on full main beam.

Given that our Trust covers some 7,500 square miles which includes numerous rivers, estuaries and lakes, our rural drivers often encounter ground mist and fog which drivers within towns and cities may not.  Some crews will benefit from borrowed lighting which comes from Clubs, Pubs, entertainment centres, cinema foyers and petrol station forecourts; but others will be travelling down A / B roads that are in total darkness, and some across dirt tracks.

I would suggest that only our crew know what road conditions they are experiencing while out on the road and that any additional pressures placed upon them by a third party to drive faster or to explain why they do not appear to be travelling faster, could be the catalyst for a road traffic accident to happen.

We are all painfully aware of the Stop Clock Targets that the current government places upon the NHS and the fines which are doled out like toilet roll paper; and the sad part is that we are not judged upon the level of clinical care that we provide to our patients.

During winter months it is even more important that the mandatory roadworthy checks are carried out on vehicles at the commencement of our duty period. Tyre pressures and tread depths, anti-freeze and screen wash should all be at the correct levels, the vehicle windows should be properly cleaned and windscreen de-misters serviceable.

Our drivers need to keep alert to the projected dipped beam distance of clear illuminated road ahead. That distance is the distance in which we should be able to safely stop if there is someone or something on the road. If we are going too fast to stop within the distance we can clearly see on the road ahead, we are driving too fast.

Check your vehicles. Drive safely. Get there in one piece and be able to carry out your role. Remember that low winter sun can be hazardous and that road conditions can change rapidly in the shadows where the sun does not shine.

Stay Safe and Keep The Shiny Side Uppermost.

Jeff Pittman