Occupational Road Safety – Emergency Services

At-work road safety

Driving an emergency vehicle comes with even greater risks due to the nature of the journeys involved. Emergency response drivers include:

  • Paramedics and ambulance services
  • Organ transfer and blood services
  • The fire service
  • The police
  • VIP protection
  • Armed services

Emergency vehicle drivers must have exceptional driving skills that allow them to be able to handle difficult road conditions at high speed.

What responsibilities do the emergency services have with regards to occupational road safety?

Of course, the Trust has to ensure that the vehicle is properly maintained and serviced but in addition to that, it is the driver that has a greater responsibility than many other people who drive for work. Here are some of the responsibilities the driver will have:

Vehicle Inspections

At the start of every shift or whenever a vehicle is swapped during a shift, the driver must carry out a VDI (Visual Daily Inspection). This means that the driver must check that the vehicle complies with the law. The inspection incorporates checks on the following elements:

  • Number plates and bodywork
  • Checks under the bonnet
  • Condition and operation of mirrors, wipers, windscreen wash and glass
  • Condition, operation and cleanliness of lights (including the vehicle’s emergency lights)
  • The horn and sirens
  • Tyres and wheels, including the spare wheel – the depth of the tread must be 1.6mm across the middle three-quarters of the tyre and all the way around. There must be no defects or cuts. (Front line vehicles actually have their tyres changed at 3mm due to their use at speed). Tyre pressures should be checked.

Legally, it is the emergency vehicle driver’s responsibility to make sure the safety checks have been completed before each shift or when the vehicle is changed mid-shift. A lot of the time, a vehicle might be prepared by other staff before the shift starts but it is still the responsibility of the driver legally to make sure checks have happened.

Spectacles wearers

Emergency vehicle staff have to carry a spare pair of spectacles or contact lenses with them at all times. The nature of the job means that a lost contact lens could be a life or death situation.

Exemptions on the roads for emergency vehicles

Owing to the tasks carried out by emergency vehicles, a lot of the rules of the road do not apply in certain situations, for example, speed limits.

Drivers of emergency vehicles are allowed to exceed the statutory speed limits in a situation when observing the speed limit might hinder the task in hand (i.e. if a patient needs to go to hospital quickly).

In some situations, the driver will adhere to statutory speed limits when necessary. For example, if an ambulance is called and the severity of the patient’s condition is unknown, the driver might exceed the speed limit to attend the scene. Following this, if the patient’s condition is not life-threatening or serious, the driver may then follow speed limits on the route to the hospital as the case is not time-bound.

Of course, safety is paramount and the driver has to drive at the speed that is the safest according to the unique circumstances. The vehicle needs to be driven in such a way that the drive can still deal with hazards safely.

Red lights

Emergency vehicles are allowed to pass through red lights. However, drivers are told to treat a red light as a ‘give way’ sign, which means that they approach with caution and don’t pass through until they are sure the way is clear.

When approaching red lights, emergency vehicles should use sirens and lights to warn the traffic ahead that they are approaching and give others the time to get out of the way or stop.

Poor Road Conditions

Driving at speed is dangerous in itself but this risk can be increased if the weather conditions are unfavourable. Rain on the mirrors and windows lowers the driver’s visibility and water on the road makes it more difficult for a driver to read road markings, especially at night when wet roads and pavements behave like mirrors against the lights. Lack of visibility is a big problem because it also causes eyestrain and the movement of the wipers can increase a driver’s visual fatigue too.

Why emergency vehicles are exempt

The first hour after a road collision is often referred to as ‘the golden hour’. This is because ¾ of deaths occur during this time. The sooner emergency vehicles arrive on the scene, the more chance victims have of surviving.

Things that emergency vehicles aren’t exempt from

There are rules that even emergency vehicles have to follow at all times, even when they are responding to emergencies. Drivers of emergency vehicles must:

  • Not drive recklessly
  • Not drive carelessly
  • Not park dangerously
  • Wear a seatbelt
  • Not use a mobile phone while driving
  • Obey lights that control fire stations and railway crossings
  • Obey ‘give way’ and ‘stop’ signs
  • Obey ‘no entry’ signs (unless directed by police or uniformed traffic warden)
  • Obey one way systems (unless directed by police or uniformed traffic warden)
  • Stop if they are involved in a road traffic accident

Stay safe out there.