How to Improve Your Ambulance Driving Skills

 

 
 
 

W. Ann "Winnie" Maggiore, JD, NREMT-P | | Wednesday, February 3, 2010


In EMS, many of us spend a great deal of time in our "office on wheels," that is, behind the wheel of our rescue vehicle. Unlike a desk, however, we must frequently drive our "offices" at high speeds through all types of weather and traffic conditions they never taught us about in high school driver's ed. Whether your employer protects you legally if you crash on duty, you owe it to yourself, to your family, to your career and to the public to become the best driver possible.

Fortunately, numerous options exist to not only improve your driving skills but provide you with a lot of fun while you're learning. Even if you have had agency training, investment in improving your driving skills will impact your personal life, and will make you a much more capable and efficient EMS driver. Every one of the following options involves a legitimate, controlled environment in which you can learn valuable skills, have fun and provide some additional peace of mind for you and your family.

Professional Driving School

Professional driving school offers a structured training environment utilizing state-of-the-art equipment, a purpose-built training facility and seasoned professional driving instructors.

Attending a true performance or racing school will teach and refine all aspects of your driving abilities using their vehicles, their tires, their track and their gas. Plus, you'll receive extensive one-on-one training. The time you save by learning directly from the pros far outweighs the cost of the schooling. This is an excellent choice if you aren't interested in any of the motor sports options below.

As a note of caution, beware of so-called driving "experiences," which are generally advertised along with bona fide professional schools. The difference is immense. The driving "experiences" are often nothing more than a glorified theme park ride where with minimal instruction and an emphasis on giving students a taste of a highly restricted vehicle on a particular track. Pick a school using street-based vehicles that focuses on learning instead.

All you'll need to get started is a checkbook or credit card. As with the other forms of racing presented here, cost varies from school to school, depending on the type of vehicle used, the venue and the number of training days. Classes can cost from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. If you get hooked, many schools offer advanced programs; some even offer school-supported racing programs.

For more information, visithttp://snipr.com/raceschoolsfor a comprehensive list.

Amateur Sports Car Racing

At its basic form, amateur sports car racing places cars of similar performance against each another, wheel-to-wheel, on race tracks around the country. Numerous classes exist, and modifications generally revolve around safety gear and some basic suspension/engine allowances. Because most vehicles used in this type of racing are older, parts are usually low-cost and readily available.

This type of racing provides an excellent opportunity to learn about high-speed handling, braking and cornering techniques for a relatively low investment. Most classes use a production chassis and street-based "DOT" tire, so handling dynamics and cornering performance remain similar to street vehicles. Granted, you shouldn't be driving your rescue box like a corvette, but the skills honed here amplify and refine such critical skills as situational awareness, proper scanning and smooth driver inputs.

You can sometimes use your own vehicle if it meets safety regulations. You'll also need a safety suit, a helmet, fuel, tires, a membership and a way to get your vehicle to the track. In many cases, competitors drive their race car to the track, tape up the headlights and taillights, and go racing.

Entry fees vary from track to track; annual membership fees may apply. You will also need to buy, rent or borrow a race car and the required safety gear. You can typically find a good race car for less than $2,000, with the prices increasing based on class and equipment.

If you like amateur sports car racing and decide you'd like to get more involved, races are held regularly around the country at various race tracks, with several sanctioning bodies holding national championship events each year. Although costs are typically low, the old adage "speed costs money -- how fast do you want to go?" definitely applies.

For more information, contact the Sports Car Club of America(www.scca.com)or the National Auto Sports Club(www.nasaproracing.com).There are also many independent car clubs, and make-specific (e.g., BMW, Porsche, etc.) organizations that feature wheel-to-wheel racing events for their members.

Autocrossing

Autocrossing, also known as "Solo racing," is basically a competitive form of the traffic-coned courses you maneuvered through in driver training. But unlike the academy, each driver is individually timed to the thousandth of a second, and drivers compete against each other in similarly classed vehicles. Vehicles complete the course one at a time (hence the "solo" moniker), and the events are usually held at such places as airport runways and parking lots.

Solo II emphasizes driver skill and vehicle handling, which means precision, smoothness and balance are the keys to speed. Because you can use your personal vehicle, you can learn how to drive it to its limit for safer street driving. Courses vary from venue to venue, so there are a lot to choose from, and there's usually an event near you. Competition can prove fierce, with winners often determined by thousandths of a second.

Literally thousands of Solo events happen nationwide each year. Because there are many categories and classes of Solo, you can either continue driving your street car, or find something more specialized. There are even national championship events.

All you need for autocrossing is vehicle that meets a basic safety inspection, a helmet (sometimes provided), a few dollars to enter and a good attitude. Entry fees usually vary from $20 $50; annual membership fees may apply.

For more information, contact the Sports Car Club of America(www.scca.com),or the National Auto Sport Association(www.nasaproracing.com).There are also numerous independent car clubs that offer Solo events to members.

Kart Racing

Interested in driving a vehicle that accelerates from 0 60 mph in about three seconds, corners with as much g-force as a Formula 1 or Indy car, fits in the back of a normal pickup truck and can run an entire race weekend on a few gallons of gas? If so, welcome to karting.

These are definitely not the contraptions you see in local home improvement and auto-parts stores, or at the local county fair. Real karts (the "go" part disappeared a while back) have no suspension, measure about 72" x 50", and weigh approximately 150 lbs. without a driver. Engines vary from five to 30 horsepower or more, depending upon the class. Some karts have a single gear; others feature shifting mechanisms.

Most karting takes place on paved tracks less than a mile in length. Classes exist based on age, type of kart, weight and competition level. Karting events are also held on dirt and large racetracks, each using a kart specifically designed for that type of racing.

Entry fees vary from track to track; annual membership fees may apply. You will also need to buy, rent, or borrow a kart and the required safety gear (you may not use your own vehicle). You can buy a good kart for less than $2,000, with price increasing by class and equipment. Aside from the kart, you'll need a safety suit, a helmet, fuel, tires, a membership and a way to get it to the track.

For the money, no other vehicle will give you the performance of a kart. You won't need to build an additional garage to house it, you can transport it in the bed of a pickup, and track time and competition is plentiful. Plus, it's cheap, so you can race often. And if you crash, it's reasonable to fix. Most places in the country have a kart track within a moderate driving distance, and with some youth classes starting at age 5, it could be your next family sport. Many Indycar, NASCAR and Formula 1 drivers got their start in karting. Like Solo, numerous opportunities exist. If you're good enough, a world championship could be on your horizon.

For more information, contact the World Karting Association(www.worldkarting.com).

Summary

Driving an EMS vehicle properly in crisis situations under intense pressure requires techniques and skills that are perishable by nature. Depending on where you work, your only driver training (if you had any at all) may have been years ago, or in a location dictated by budget or lack thereof. Because we drive every day, on and off duty, taking advantage of the options listed above will provide you with the chance to maintain your performance driving skills while having fun.

 

Click here for more on ambulance safety & EMS driving.




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Related Topics: Vehicle Ops

 
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W. Ann "Winnie" Maggiore, JD, NREMT-PWinnie Maggiore is an attorney and paramedic in Albuquerque. She is a shareholder at the law firm of Butt, Thornton & Baehr, PC where she defends physicians, dentists, oral surgeons, nurses, paramedics and other health care providers, as well as law enforcement officers, against lawsuits and administrative enforcement actions. She is an author of many EMS legal publications, a member of the JEMS editorial board, and holds a volunteer faculty position in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of New Mexico.

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