Friday, 24 July 2009

Driven Crazy

The dangers of being a paramedic have been highlighted recently, some for all the wrong reasons. The hazards we face are all too common, from abuse, to threats, to illness to violence. Sometimes, however, the biggest risk we face is before we've even met the patient. It's a risk that is borne out of carelessness, lack of respect, lack of skill, and especially selfishness. It's a threat to every ambulance, be it on six wheels or two, or anything in between. It's the menace of the non-attention-paying other road users. Sometimes it seems that there are certain people who will do all in their power not to let the ambulance through. Take for example the following cases:
1) We were driving down a road with two lanes in each direction, coming up to a cross-road with a set of traffic lights. Ahead of us was a car in each lane, waiting for the lights to change. Lights and sirens on, about 100 metres before we reach the lights, they change to green. The car in lane 1 takes off in a hurry and disappears up the road. The car in lane 2 conveniently moves out the way into lane 1. We look at each other in awe at the fact that there actually seems to be a sensible driver about at last. At that point, my entire life flashes before my eyes, the ambulance rocks from side to side, the brakes scream and both my driving crewmate and I swear loudly. I almost never swear. He never fails to remind me of that fact... The supposedly sensible driver has waited until we are within millimetres of him, and then performs a tyre-shrieking U-turn in front of us. To say that we missed by a hair's-breadth is no exaggeration. Had we have hit that car, I have no doubt that he'd have died. And possibly we would have as well.

2) Again, on lights and sirens, driving down a three-lane highway. I'm in lane 3, the fast lane, there's a car about 200 metres ahead, and almost no-one else on the road. I'm impressed at the fact that he seems to realise relatively early that I'm behind him, as he indicates to move over into lane 2. He indicates, but doesn't move. I'm getting closer, he still looks as though he's going to be helpful, but at the last possible moment he slams on his brakes. Leaving me almost no room for manoeuvre, I end up swerving round him and only just keep control of the vehicle. As I go past I see the reason for him indicating. He's got his phone to his ear, and his elbow resting on what must be the indicator control. He had no idea at all that I was behind him.

I know it can be unnerving having an emergency vehicle suddenly appear in your rear-view mirror. I remember that I had that experience on my very first driving lesson, with a police car behind me, and my very first time driving an ambulance, when two fire-trucks appeared opposite as we both tried to fit through a narrow tunnel. We don't go out of our way to scare or intimidate you. We don't try to run you off the road. We don't abuse the powers that we are given We're here to help the public, not harass them. We just ask for your help and co-operation.

So PLEASE! Think a little.

Pay a little more attention to your surroundings.

Stay off your phone and concentrate.

Turn down the music, just a little.

If there's no safe place for you to pull over, don't panic, keep driving until you can find somewhere safe.

Don't be scared to move into a bus lane, as long as you pull back out again after we've passed.

More than anything else, don't be selfish. It's probably what causes the most accidents.

And while I'm on the subject of driving, please, Please, PLEASE, strap your children in. It's one of the most loving and caring things you can do for them.

I hope that it's not your friend or relative we're on the way to, or are transporting, but just imagine, and act, as if it were. It could be your life-saving, good deed of the day.


Anonymous said...

"Don't be scared to move into a bus lane, as long as you pull back out again after we've passed"

Much as I agree with you in principle, I have no doubt that when I get the nice picture of my car with a prosecution for driving in a bus lane, any plea of "I was letting an ambulance through" will fall on deaf ears....

And given my mother in law once got a fined for driving in a bus lane, and her fine was higher than the person in front of her in the queue who had been prosecuted for burglary, I think motorists have good reason to be suspicious.

slmiller72 said...

It never fails to astound me that many road users are totally oblivious to a large, bright yellow, blue flashing lights and screaming sirens box on wheels. Even those that are coming in the opposite direction!!!

I don't wish to tar every driver on the road with the same brush for there are very safe and polite drivers out there, but more often than not drivers see us at the last minute and more astonishingly swerve to the offside of the road (so that their car is over the white line) and expect us to undertake them! If we are lucky enough to have a driver with an ounce of common sense pull over to the nearside, all aforementioned common sense goes out of the window as they roll along next to the kerb, waiting for us to pass, rolling, rolling until they reach an island, then stop!!!!

In our training they tell us about red mist. The mist of anger that envelopes the driver to the extent that they do irrational things and have a complete change in personality ie road rage.

I can put my hand on my heart and say that since I have been a paramedic I have:

a) seen the standard of driving on the roads drop quite considerably.

b) felt my blood pressure/anger rise on several occasions due to the dangerous actions, stupidity and downright carelessness of other drivers.

c) had road rage myself, only mildly, but enough to make me think how out of character it is for me.

So thankyou Ben for highlighting an issue that is a great bugbear of mine. I hope those that follow this blog take note and pass it on...

Anonymous said...

slimmer72, i think the problem is that some drivers to a "bambi" - they freeze not sure what to do. i saw it a few weeks ago outside my office, someone was just sitting there, crawling along slowly, with an ambulance right behind him, blue lights and sirens on.

stupid isn't it!

slmiller72 said...

Anonymous, I think you are probably right!!

I am waiting for the day when our ambulances are fitted with a loud hailer system with which to "educate" other road users but I fear this may only be in my dreams..!!! :)

Ben Yatzbaz said...

Anonymous 1 - I take your point on the bus lane. There are some nasty council people who wouldn't know compassion or common sense if it jumped up and bit them... Nevertheless - I'll adjust my request. If you don't want to move into the bus-lane, then let me in there. Don't dither half in, half out, and please let me out when I get ahead of you...

The Grumpy Dispatcher said...

I have a long rant that I just posted to mine that you probably can appreciate... put it up this morning before I wandered over here and saw this.