Driving in a winter wonder land.

As snowy conditions are upon us, everyone has seen it – the crazy driver in the middle of a blizzard, driving as if it were a lovely summer day. More than once, I was called to the result of such driving, more than once it was the other driver who was the patient.

In my day, ambulance drivers went through an intensive driver training program, similar to the basic one traffic police officers go through. Part of that was skid avoidance and vehicle control. That part was invaluable when trying to rush an injured driver, fully immobilised in the back of your 2 tonne vehicle, smoothly and safely to hospital. Difficult at the best of times, but worse when you can barely see the road and there are drivers, who think they are much better than they actually are, out there.

I hear “rear wheel drive is rubbish in snow” a lot, but we took our, rear wheel drive, 2 tonne, ambulance lots of places many car drivers clearly didn’t manage.

We signed on at 6pm for a 12 hour night shift. It was cold and icy, but the roads were clear. By 7pm there were a couple of inches of snow….on top of anever thickening layer of ice. The first job we were called to was put of our area and involved a twisty country road. My partner was driving and instantly realised the road was unsafe. I radioed control and informed them of this, and that we would be taking a very long time to get there. Two minutes later they called back and stood us down. We turned round as soon as we found a convenient place, and began our return to the Ambulance station. As we pulled on to the dual carriageway for the final 2 miles of our journey, we noticed headlights, actually, one headlight, pointing at us from our side of the central reservation. By this time the outside lane was buried under a thick layer of snow. We approached the…light gingerly and turned on our blue lights to warn other drivers the outside lane was blocked. As we got closer we saw a car on the central reservation, up against the barrier, facing towards us. The passenger side was smashed at the front and the headlight was gone. Only the driver’s side headlight was still working. We radioed control and updated them. They suggested we took the vehicle’s occupants to the small hospital we were based in as it wod be warm and safe for them to wait for whatever recovery plans they might have. Our controller would inform the police of this.

We dropped our passengers off (all having been given a suitable examination….for the pedantic among us) and pressed “clear”. Immediately the radio went. Control was receiving multiple calls of crashes on the stretch of dual carriageway we had just left and wanted us to go back and have a look. As we pulled onto the road and drove to the area in question, a straight stretch about half a mile long, we were met by carnage. Cars in the ditch, cars facing the wrong direction… Most were accompanied by police vehicles, and we quickly ascertained that most had been low speed incidents and no-one was injured. By now the outside lane was completely obscured by snow. My partner noticed a police car in the distance at our original incident. We decided to drive over to inform them of the occupants’ whereabouts. As we drew closer we saw a third car at the site. We stopped in the invisible outslde lane…eventually, and put on blue lights again. As we stepped out of the Ambulance one of the police officers approached us. I explained our previous involvement and enquired about the third car. It seemed the driver had thought it would be cool to overtake the slow moving traffic in the non-existent outside lane, having not seen the blue lights of the police car blocking the lane in the distance. By the time he saw the policeman with his hand held up it was too late. As soon as his foot slammed the brakes on in panic, the car went out of control. It mounted the central reservation and scraped along the barrier until it came to a standstill, a few metres from the rear of the police car. “both occupants seem ok, but I think the driver’s ego is injured”. I went for a look. I leaned in through the drivers window and asked the usual questions. They were fine. No airbags deployed, no pain, no need to go to hospital. “Good. I’m currently in the process of charging him.” said the police officer. We left them to it and returned to base.

We encountered 6 RTCs on that journey, 7 including the original one. There were others that night, none involved injuries, many could have been prevented.

We took our ambulance places it should not have gone that winter, thanks to our driver training and the experience we gained after it. Places even “4×4” drivers didn’t manage (that’s another story). My prize drive was getting the patient in labour to hospital in a blizzard, before the baby was born.

Snow can certainly create a wonder land, where you wonder far too often what on earth goes through some drivers’ minds!!

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