Ambulance Driving Tricks and Tips

I’m back. The past three weeks have been a little too time consuming with exams and I haven’t been able to get any posts together. On one of the forums that I contribute to, one of the posters asked for tips and tricks for driving and by the time I got done typing, I almost had a page of different tips and tricks that I picked up when I was in the field.

I’ve driven type 2s (vanbulances) and type 3s (van front, box back), and here’s my line of tips.

A lot of ambulance driving is the same or similar to regular driving practices.

Take turns slowly, especially in the top heavy, narrow base type IIs . Until you get used to it, if you think you’re going a good speed, you’re probably going too fast.

When stopping, when you’re almost stopped, let up slightly on the break. This will allow you to expend the rest of your energy going a few inches forward instead of going forward onto the springs, and then rocking backward.

Remember, you can’t hit anyone if you’re stopped. If you’re in any situation where you can’t accurately predict what the other cars are going to do (like a Mexican standoff), just stop. Either they’re going to go or they’re going to signal you to go. Not being in an accident at all is better than being not at fault in an accident.

For type 3s, your mirrors protrude past the box, so if the mirrors make it, your box will make it.

The ambulance will fit into a parking space. If you know your parking space is clear, line up the left tire just inside of the left parking space line and use the line to guide your backing. You still need to watch the back to know when you need to stop, but as long as your tire is lined up, you’re inside the parking space.

If you’re on the freeway and going freeway speeds, remember a buffer space. I’d argue 4-5 seconds is good. Also, use seconds, the nice thing about seconds is the faster you go, the larger the gap.

More for type 2s again, be slow on the accelerator and slow on the brake to avoid hard stops and hard starts. There’s nothing wrong with starting a slow break a little early or being slow off of a green light or stop sign.

Your top speed should be guided by what you’re comfortable with. Not the speed limit (Southern California speed limits are a joke, so I’m biased), and not the patient’s condition. If you’re comfortable going no faster than 55, than even if the speed limit is 65, go 55, just stay to the right. Oh, and don’t use lights and sirens if going slower than the speed of traffic on a freeway.

Similarly, with turns, how much centripetal force is being generated in the back is more important than anything else (I’ll guarantee you, if you’re going at a speed that properly minimizes it, you’ll be going slow enough for the roads). My gauge for turns, stops, and starts, is if I’m bracing myself, as a driver who can anticipate starts, stops, and turns, I’m probably going too fast or hard. Next time you drive, consciously think about what your body is doing as you start, stop, and turn. Is your core tensing up as you turn? Are your arms tensing up as you stop? It’s something most of us do without thinking about it, which is why it’s a good indicator if you can tune into it.

Make sure to communicate. You will, at some point, slam on your breaks. It happens. If at all possible, a loud, “Hard stop!” can give who ever is in the back enough time to grab onto something or sit down. Similarly, things like train tracks, bumps, and dips should be announced.

For emergency driving:

There are prizes for second place, however there are no good prizes for being in an accident. If what ever you’re going to do has any decent risk of causing an accident, you probably shouldn’t do it.

In urban and suburban environments, the siren is essentially only good for cars on the road you’re on. Cars coming off of side streets? They probably haven’t heard you well enough to know you’re on the street they’re turning onto or crossing. Never assume that just because the siren is on and loud to you that others have heard it.

Again, if you need to, stop and let tricky traffic situations work themselves out.

Do. Not. Tail. Gate. I don’t care that the idiot in the car in front of you isn’t yielding as fast as you’d like them to. If you tail gate, the only warning lights visible are the headlight flashers (wig-wags) if equipped and the grill lights. To be honest, the grill lights aren’t always that visible, especially during the day.

If you’re coming up on a red light, look to the left. If the opposite lane of traffic is empty, go into that lane. Going down an empty lane opposite of traffic where the closest traffic is stopped at a red light with an unopposed view of an emergency vehicle with lights on going the wrong way is INFINITY more safe than trying to force cars into an intersection against a red light.

Standard suggestion for emergency driving: Make all turns from the left lane. Turning right? Try to do it from the left lane. Turning left? Do it from the left lane, you’re more visible there.

Try to pass on the left, but sometimes you have to pass on the right. It happens, get over it.

Finally, one of the golden rules of life. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. We should never be a greater threat to our patients than their disease, and any accident is a greater threat. While we may not always be at fault, often times we can contribute to an accident not happening by good defensive driving techniques, even if it means giving up a right of way that is rightfully ours. There’s no prizes for an accident and no prizes for forcing someone to submit to your lights and sirens. If it’s unsafe, simply don’t do it.

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About Joe Paczkowski

I am an EMT and a second year medical student at Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP).
This entry was posted in EMS Operations and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Ambulance Driving Tricks and Tips

  1. Pingback: In the News: How Not to Drive | EMT-Medical Student

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