Scenario: An eight year old child just had an asthma attack and cannot breathe. While the life of the child hangs in the balance, an emergency response unit is fighting through peak hour traffic to get to the child’s home. Every second they are delayed means another agonising second ticks by while a child is fighting to live.
South African road users simply do not realise that their actions on our roads can mean the difference between life and death. “As a general rule, most drivers do not know how to behave when an emergency vehicle approaches,” says Peter de Kock, Group Risk and Credit Manager of Fury Motor Group. Peter is a volunteer on board a unique road accident support vehicle that is sponsored by the Fury Motor Group and Cartrack, and managed by Netcare 911.
“Some will try and ‘clear’ the way for us but will put their own lives at risk in doing so. Others are too bewildered and freeze because they do not know what to do, subsequently blocking our path. Other road users are completely oblivious of the approaching lights and sirens of an emergency vehicle because the music in their vehicles is too loud or they are simply not paying attention,” says Netcare 911 Regional Operations Manager for Gauteng West, Neill Visser.
Arrogant drivers who refuse to move out of the way are also the order of the day. “It places us in a difficult position of having to try and weave in and out of traffic in an attempt to move around a driver,” says Neill.
According to Shalen Ramduth, General Manager of In-land and Aeromedical Operations at Netcare 911, their biggest concern is the emergency lanes on freeways that are frequently utilised by impatient drivers who try to avoid traffic congestion. “We often find that once we have cleared the backlog in the emergency lane, the same culprits who blocked the lane will pull out behind the emergency vehicle and follow it. The yellow lane is there for emergency vehicles only,” says Shalen, emphatically. “It is illegal to utilise the emergency lane for anything other than an emergency or a breakdown,” he adds.
An emergency vehicle is most vulnerable when crossing through intersections. “Legislation stipulates that we have to come to a complete standstill when crossing through an intersection where the traffic light is red for us. Motorists who actually stop to let us pass, are often overtaken at high speeds by impatient drivers who do not realise that an ambulance is crossing, causing them to drive straight into the side of an ambulance. We also encounter drivers who shoot through red lights, making it dangerous even if the light is green.”
Juan Marais of Cartrack, a leading vehicle tracking and recovery, fleet management and telematics service provider, says a lack of awareness is to blame to an extent. “South African road users are showing an increasing amount of disregard for the rules of the road, and we believe a lot of this has to do with a lack of law enforcement. It is leading to accidents, road rage incidents and interfering with the work of emergency personnel. The only way that it will get better is if there is more consistent and stronger enforcement of road regulations from a policing perspective, and secondly if people take a step back and realise the extraordinary impact that their actions can have on a life and death situation,” says Juan.
What to do in an emergency situation
• Make use of rear view mirrors (you will see the emergency vehicle long before you hear the sirens).
• Relax when an emergency vehicle approaches. Look at the vehicle and/or driver as they will indicate where they want to go; guiding you where you should go.
• Move towards the left so the vehicle can pass on your right.
• Should you not be able to move left, move towards the edge of your lane so the emergency vehicle can pass between the vehicles.
• Never tailgate an emergency vehicle as they could decelerate or stop at any time.
• Do not use the emergency lane if traffic is backed up.
“The next time you see an emergency vehicle fighting its way through traffic, ask yourself: How long can you hold your breath? What if the victim they need to get to is someone I know? Be it with the police going to a robbery or a major accident scene, or ambulances attending to a medical emergency. Always consider that lives can be at stake and every second we can get there quicker, could mean the difference between life and death,” concludes Neill Visser of Netcare 911.