Driving: Metal vehicles, adhered to the road by small areas of rubber compound. 14 year olds are taught about momentum and inertia in basic physics at school, but few people apply that knowledge once they’re in the driving seat.
At 20 mph the minimum stopping distance is more than 12 metres, but the average driver focuses 6 metres ahead of them. The average human reaction time is 1.5 seconds – at 70 mph a car has travelled about 483 metres before most drivers’ feet touch the brake pedal, almost half a kilometre!
These facts are not secrets, but people still think they can change the laws of physics, that they are good drivers. A traffic police officer once told me there’s no such thing as a good driver. Some may be better than others, but even they can’t control the weather, the lorry in front’s leaking fuel tank, the idiot drivers on the same road…
Please excuse the physics and driving lesson. The point I’m trying to make is simple – driving is dangerous. There have been significant advances in safety technology- once I turned up to an RTC to find a crumpled mess of a car. Thinking the worst, I ran to the traffic officer standing nearby, shaking their head. “Is the driver still inside?” I said. “No chum, this is them here. We’re talking about petrol or diesel engines. Which do you prefer?” – but despite all the safety improvements, no one is invincible.
Every time you pressed the “999” button, you knew it would bring out the worst in drivers around you. Some panic and don’t know what to do or where to go. Some try to outrun you to get out of the way, some actually stop dead, right in front of you, some even run red traffic lights to get out of your way. Many don’t actually see you!
When you are driving under emergency conditions your senses are heightened. You learn, ver quickly, to predict other drivers’ moves. When there’s a patient dying in the back of the ambulance seconds count, and the pressure is on you to get them to hospital quickly, smoothly and safely.
Sometimes this stress leads to anger, that’s when the red mist descends.
During emergency driver training we were taught about the red mist. It’s a dangerous thing and you have to learn to control your emotions very quickly. There is no place for anger in a diver, especially not one who has a patient’s life in their hands.
Tiredness can help bring on red mist, when the car in front won’t move out of your way, or someone stops in front of you. It’s tempting to drive too close to the unseeing driver, in the hope they hear your sirens better or see the blue lights. I actually did that myself, until I learned it only takes the driver in front to panic brake, and I’d have caused an RTC.
Learning to control my emotions during these situations was difficult for me, but it was an essential part of the job so I learned to do it. There’s no place for road rage, ever, especially not in an ambulance. We all had our pet names we’d hurl at drivers that caused us annoyance, but that was as far as it went, and it was usually in a jocular fashion because we’d probably never see them again.
One time I came up behind a very elderly neighbour of mine. They weren’t moving out of the way, and I followed them (at a safe distance!) for almost half a mile before I finally managed to overtake safely. I quizzed them about it at a later date, they had no idea what I was talking about!
Most drivers don’t get the training emergency drivers do, but that’s no excuse for some of the driving I saw. Anger, annoyance, road rage….red mist. None of those belong on the roads. Calming music (it makes a big difference!), slowed breathing, whatever works for you. Don’t let other drivers bad driving make you a bad driver.
Some may think the next part is obvious, my experience says otherwise – if an ambulance appears behind you with lights and sirens going, think. Think where the driver can go with the least amount of manoeuvring (there may be a lot going on in the back, every move of the steering wheel throws the passengers around). Think about safety, and move out of their way early and sensibly, making your moves obvious to other drivers.
It starts with a mist, don’t let it come to this: