Making Good Progress: Driving for BASICS

You’ve got your kit sorted, you’ve established a link with Ambulance Control and are keen to get your first call.  What about transport?  For many responders, this is an area which has little guidance, and yet it’s often the bit that puts responders at most risk.  Driving to an incident requires skill whether it’s with or without emergency lights.

There are several different courses available for “response driving”, but most will draw heavily on the principles of Roadcraft – the driving bible of the police.  The essential elements are hazard awareness and making good progress and the principles can be useful to driving in general, whether it’s to pick the kids up from school or on an emergency call.  The book is inexpensive and easy to read.  Further experience can be gained through completion of advanced driving certificates from bodies such as RoSPA and the Institute of Advanced Motoring.  If you are required to use blue lights, you are likely to require a more lengthy training course organised via your local ambulance service.

There are however some key points which may be of interest, especially to new BASICS responders.  These are listed below.  If you can suggest any more, you can leave a comment.

  • Get into the habit of regular car checks.  We should really all do this, but do you really check your tyre pressures & oil level, top up your windscreen washer fluid and inspect your lights on a weekly or monthly basis?  It’s up to you what schedule you follow, but the more that you get into the habit, the more likely you are to detect any problems early on – and not whilst driving to an incident.
  • Think “red mist” before setting off to attend a call.  And be very conscious of when the perceived urgency of the call starts to affect your driving.
  • Plan your route before leaving.  By having a clear driving plan in mind you will make progress more quickly, and  focus on driving and not the directions.
  • Put your PPE on before setting off – many seasoned responders will confirm that once on scene you can quickly become drawn into the situation and miss the opportunity to don PPE (personal protective equipment) at this point.  Wear your jacket, and if going to a road accident or similar, keep your helmet accessible.
  • Consider doing an Advanced Driver certificate, for example with IAM or RoSPA.  These are all about “making good progress” and you will benefit from having a systematic approach to your driving.  
  • Learn about limit points and how they can help you to corner safely.  If the concept is new, see this article and watch this video.
  • Speak a running commentary to yourself whilst driving normally, as this helps to practice advanced driving skills and focus your attention.  You’ll find yourself running a similar but internal commentary when tasked to an incident, which also helps improve self-awareness.
  • Be aware that sometimes it is safer to switch off your emergency lights if they are making a driver overly nervous or resulting in their driving more erratically.  The elderly are particularly at risk of stopping suddenly or making panic manoeuvres that can put you both at risk.  Many drivers don’t understand the significance of green lights.
  • Learn to overtake confidently using the “triangle method” and practice this when it is safe and effective to do so when driving normally.
  • Whilst driving, focus on driving.  Don’t get distracted by the call details – instead focus on getting there safely and quickly.  Some find it helpful to play relaxing music whilst responding to control the “red mist”.
  • Consider ways of making other road users aware of your presence.  You may wish to obtain a flashing green light.  Blues and sirens are a whole different ball game and need to be discussed with your Ambulance Control.  Use of headlights and magnetic strips for your car can also be useful.
  • When getting close to the scene, slow down.  One way not to arrive on scene, is to collide with other emergency vehicles, or even the crashed vehicles, by not anticipating the scene and turning corners too quickly.  It has been done.  Think ahead and approach cautiously.
  • Be familiar with the “fend off position” and know that this position increases visibility of your warning lights as well as providing physical protection.
The use of emergency lights and sirens is governed heavily by law.  Green lights can be used only when carrying a GMC-registered doctor, but don’t allow any standard traffic regulations to be broken.  Use of blue lights & sirens now requires specific training in line with your local ambulance service or police force.

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One Response to Making Good Progress: Driving for BASICS

  1. Mark Bloch September 30, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

    Through the IAM we run 5 weeks of talks each Tuesday evening (about 45 minutes each and then questions and discussion) which covers most of the theory that is then put into practice by the observers when out with the associates. We also have a thin ‘hand-book’ and a more formal IAM publication that is given to all the associates as soon as they sign on. Similarly when we teach the bikesafe with the police there is a lecture of about an hour and a half at the beginning of the day which goes through the system of driving (which is similar for the bike as for the car with just a few changes to the generic ‘system of driving’).
    Both courses are pretty much run by volunteers and not to be raising money but rather to hopefully improve road safety. Therefore I would think that there should not be too much of an issue in being able to use the training materials from either or both. Realistically I think this could be put into a talk (or two) that would give an understanding of the value of following the ‘system of driving’ (not too disimilar to the one that the emergency services use but obviously the services do it in a lot more depth – ambulance now a 3 week full-time examined course) which would at the least give some insight into the awareness and management of hazards when responding (& just daily driving) and possibly encourage some individuals to continue learning advanced driving either with IAM or ROSPA.
    I would be happy to investigate this if the BASICS Board would wish. Trying to achieve ‘blue light status’ is obviously an issue as previously illustrated but goes even further than this for all emergency services as there will be a change towards maintainance of skills being illustrated in a formal way (possibly 3 to 5 yearly) and those driving on ‘grandfather rights’ as occurs in all 3 emergency services without having done initial D2 or equivalent will have to go through some sort of process.