Saturday 24 December 2011

Drivers: Take note

"Imbeciles of various ages driving like muppets" 

One of the perks of my job has to be driving. I get to drive a big yellow ambulance through the center of the city at high speed. Well, I say high speed, it's high speed in comparison to the queues of stationary traffic i'm passing but still. To get to jobs quickly and safely it is not about the physical speed you have, but the progress you make. Quick acceleration and rapid breaking doesn't make for a comfortable journey for everyone so anticipation of the road ahead and what other road users will do is  key. But this is where the problem lies. You cannot predict what some of this countries worst and best drivers will do when they see blue!

To get a driving licence one must pass a theory test first where questions are asked on every aspect of the highway code. However, on passing the practical test, it appears all previous knowledge as to what to do regarding Emergency vehicles is forgotten. The highway code states:

'Emergency and Incident Support vehicles. You should look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police, doctors or other emergency vehicles using flashing blue, red or green lights and sirens or flashing headlights, or Highways Agency Traffic Officer and Incident Support vehicles using flashing amber lights. When one approaches do not panic. Consider the route of such a vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs. If necessary, pull to the side of the road and stop, but try to avoid stopping before the brow of a hill, a bend or narrow section of road. Do not endanger yourself, other road users or pedestrians and avoid mounting the kerb. Do not brake harshly on approach to a junction or roundabout, as a following vehicle may not have the same view as you.'

Every day, on every blue light run, at least one car, van, bus, taxi or pedestrian tries to cause a crash! These near misses are usually just that but sometimes the irratic behaviour of road users causes ambulances to crash, sometimes with a patient on board. I thought i'd compile a 'do not' list just so drivers know what isn't acceptable in the presence of blue lights.
  • Don't stop in the middle of the road
  • Don't put your hazard lights on and continue what you are doing
  • Don't indicate in either direction and continue what you are doing
  • Don't stop in-between a traffic island and the kerb
  • Don't ignore us. We will be overtaking you.
  • Don't speed up and race us. We will be overtaking you.
  • Don't stop in the middle of the road
  • Don't straddle two lanes to block us (it's illegal)
  • Don't swerve left and right
  • Don't continue turning right if we are in the middle of overtaking
  • Don't swear when we overtake you
  • Don't put you arm out the window and wave
  • Don't stop in the middle of the road
  • Don't try and change lane when in stationary traffic
  • Don't stop next to another stopped car
  • Don't block the road
  • Don't tell me to go in the bus lane. I will force you in and make you get a ticket.
  • Don't stop in the middle of the road, indicate left, and move to the right
  • Don't stop in the middle of the road
  • Don't weave through traffic behind us. Ever.
  • Don't run across the road when we are 10ft away. 
  • Don't assume we have time to stop
  • Don't stop across a side road. I may need it.
  • Don't jump a red light and speed off.
  • Don't stop in the middle of the road
  • Don't try and get in front of the buses before moving over.
  • Don't berate me for using the 'wrong' side of the road.
  • Don't 'pretend' to run out in front of me. It's not funny.
  • Don't throw things at the windscreen. Someone will die.
  • Don't push your buggy into the road. I get scared.
  • Don't stop in the middle of the road
  • Don't overtake traffic who have already stopped for me.
  • Don't put your fingers in your ears. Its a pet hate of mine.
  • Don't do anything I deem to be stupid.
  • Don't do anything stupid
  • Don't stop in the middle of the road
  • Don't stop in the middle of the road
  • Don't stop in the middle of the road
  • Don't stop in the middle of the road
I'd also like to put the record straight. We NEVER drive on blue lights unless we are on way to a job that has been categorised as suitable for blue lights or we are transporting a critically ill patient to hospital. That is all. We don't use them to get through traffic for our break. We don't get breaks. We don't use them to get off on time. We never get off on time. We also don't put the sirens on to annoy you. We aren't driving through traffic at speed because we want to piss you off. We are doing it because it is necessary. I can't comment on the Police's use of them but for us it is emergencies only. 

Click the Take Note photo at the top to see the other posts in the series!


  1. Stopping next to another stopped car is my own personal pet hate along with stopping on a blind corner (pretty bad when you are working in a rural area and really common). Share on FB.

  2. In the west Midlands we were told during the snow to transfer ALL patients to hospital on blue lights REGARDLESS of their condition because it was taking everybody too long to get there and the service was busy!!!! Not my understanding of the reasons we are granted exemptions!

  3. I walk to university along a main road near to the main city hospital. I was incensed one day to see a quad bike follow close behind an ambulance with blue lights flashing, using it to get through the heavy morning traffic. I watched in amazement as the quad bike followed a bit too closely and actually hit the ambulance.The ambulance had to stop and attend to the quad bike rider. I have never seen anyone more deserving of the label moron.

  4. As a driver there is one rule I do break sometimes - I will on occasion check carefully and mount the kerb - there are roads around here that quite simply are too narrow to get out of the way without doing so. I will check for pedestrians look for a dropped kerb and indicate and get out the way - as do other local drivers if they can because otherwise the emergency vehicles are bought to a standstill.
    As an onlooker there is one thing drives me totally potty and goodness knows what emergency drivers think about it and that is pedestrians thinking blue lights and sirens dont apply to them. I have seen a fire engine had to stop at traffic lights not because of cars in the way but because the green man lit up and most of the pedestrians proceeded to cross with no urgency at all - and similar for police and ambulance.
    How on earth you guys and gals keep your tempers to remain so sweet and helpful when you get to patients is incredible - and you have my greatest thanks.

  5. Anon 31/1 - That's Karma for you...

  6. I can comment on the Police's use of them:
    It's for emergencies, in anticipation of an imminent escalation to an emergency, escorting a high risk person, to stop a motor vehicle or warn motorists of an obstruction...

    ...unless someone has lied to our call handler or withheld or "forgot to mention" some risk diminishing information, which happens A LOT. Our regular callers "forget" to tell us that the danger has passed (if it was ever there) and imply that its ongoing during the call forcing controllers grade it a higher priority.

    To put blues on an Officer must be attending an incident which is on a log with control which has been graded as immediate by the control room staff, overseen by an inspector, or reacting to something that would be going on direcly in front of the Police car.

    And to you cynics, SERIOUSLY it is not worth getting caught, and many fleet cars start recording as soon as that 999 button is pushed so you wouldn't get away with it anyway.

    Love the blog.

  7. I've never caught an ambulance misusing their lights, but I have seen cops do it. I was down the road from the police station right at shift change (I was driving with an off duty fireman who knew all the shift change times in that town) and a cop came flying down the road lights and sirens going and flew into the station parking lot. As we passed the police station the cop was sauntering into the station without a care in the world. My fireman friend didn't seem surprised and said many of the cops he knows talk about doing it like its just another perk of the job.
    I don't use that as an excuse to be obnoxious and not get out of the way since I wouldn't want to be the reason they missed a real emergency, but I do silently judge them when I see that sort of thing happen.
    @ Anon 13 May: Apparently they are monitored better where you live than where I live. I wish someone would look into how its done where you live and get after the cops here for abusing their power.

  8. may I plagiarise your 'advice to motorists' list please ? (I'll attribute it)

  9. I understand the points you make. But could you perhaps expand on "Don't tell me to go in the bus lane. I will force you in and make you get a ticket." If there is heavy oncoming traffic and there is an adjacent bus lane into which only certain vehicles are permitted, the motorist has to heed the warning you quoted above - "take appropriate action to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs."

    And the Police have made it clear that anyone crossing a stop line under a red traffic light to permit an emergency service vehicle to pass will face legal sanctions. So it may be that this is an analogous situation where the motorists choice is to do what he/she thinks the right thing to do but knows that doing so will result in prosecution.
    Just seeking to understand ...

    1. That was a joke! It was in reference to drivers arms coming out of the window and pointing us into a bus lane when the bus lane is clearly blocked by a bus!

    2. I have never heard of a member of public being done for crossing the stop line at a red traffic light to let emergency vehicles through. I have seen them cross the line to let vehicles through and then follow across the junction in the wake of the emergency vehicle. That just takes the p and is deserving of a ticket.
      The reason we want you to pull into the bus lane is that, in this country, vehicles overtake on the right. If I drive up to the rear of you in lane 2 and the bus lane or even lane 1 is free, I don't want to take the chance that if I undertake you in the bus lane, you don't suddenly react to the blue lights and pull over to the left. I would much rather you pulled over and let me pass on the right. It is much safer.


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