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EMS Providers Who Drive Like Maniacs


This past month I told you about a partner I had. We couldn’t seem to get out of each other’s way. That wasn’t his fault; we just didn’t blend naturally. But what was indeed his fault were the g-forces he subjected me to on the way to the hospital on every run he drove. He accelerated too quickly, braked too hard, cornered too fast, and he never checked to see whether I was sitting or standing, starting an IV or reaching for equipment. As if his driving wasn’t bad enough, the real roller coaster ride began when he would reach for his cell phone, or text or check messages. And I’m positive he has no idea he was doing anything wrong.

Once upon a time, I worked for an EMS service in the northeast sector of this great country. One day while I was driving the ambulance to a call, my partner said, “I should install a string and pulley system in the cab to drop a grey wig on your head when you drive, grandma.” Well, I’m sorry to say I let him get to me. So I drove to the next call the way I used to drive my cab in New York City circa 1975. I’m not sure if I actually got it up on two wheels around one corner, but it was close.

Of course when we got to the call it was a “no patient,” but it was the only time I received a compliment during my time with that service: “Wow, you can really drive!” Yeah, like a schmuck, I thought to myself. This was the same service that drove every patient to the hospital Code 3.

Listen, folks, I really believe it’s quite enough that we’re abused by noxious odors, vituperative patients, snarky nurses, grumpy docs and egotistical officers. We really don’t need the additional stress of clueless partners testing our balance, steadiness of hand and gastrointestinal fortitude by flinging us around the back of the rig. So let’s get this pet peeve of mine out of the way, shall we?

Here’s the thing: STOP DRIVING LIKE A KNUCKLEHEAD AND BE CONSIDERATE OF YOUR PASSENGERS. I know, I know. Who, me? He can’t be talking to me, I’m a great driver! He’s preaching to the choir. He means somebody else.

But guess what, Ginga, I do mean you! Because the chance that you’re one of the handful of drivers I’ve had drive me to the hospital in the past, oh, 26 years who didn’t drive like a moron is very, very small. It’s probably, in fact almost certainly, you!

The Test
It’s simple … honestly. I don’t care how you drive when you’re alone in your car or how you treat your personal passengers. But when you’re chauffeuring me to the hospital, I expect you to do everything in your power to minimize the g-forces acting upon my body—period. I don’t care who the patient is or in what condition—I want you to drive me like Ms. Daisy. Don’t know what I mean? Here’s a simple test:
1. Take one cup, any size;
2. Fill it ¾ full of your favorite beverage;
3. Place it in the cup holder in the front of your truck;
4. Drive your truck; and
5. Don’t spill any of your favorite beverage.

Now, if it’s not you I’ve been ranting about, without changing your driving style, you will not have spilled any of the fluid. If it is you, and you drive like you normally do, guess what? If you do change your evil ways and don’t spill the drink, you’ll have provided your passengers with a minimally comfortable ride. If you wish to treat them to a deluxe excursion—which is preferable but not for the faint of heart—try the following:
1. Take one cup, no larger than 16 oz.;
2. Fill it ¾ full of your favorite hot beverage;
3. Place it between your thighs on the front seat;
4. Drive your truck; and
5. Don’t spill any of your favorite hot beverage.

You may wish to practice this method with cold water first and work up to piping hot tea or coffee as you get more proficient. Alternatively, you can request that your service purchase a driving monitoring system, whose basic component is essentially the same thing as a cup of soda—an accelerometer. But it’s attached to a speaker that growls at you as you approach predetermined g-loads, screams at you if you exceed them, records your driving behavior and can even transmit that information at predetermined intervals to a central computer. It’s a system loved by management, but loathed by crews.

There are some things you’ll learn while trying not to slop coke all over the dashboard (or crotch)—things you should have learned in driver’s ed! You’ll learn to anticipate—like seeing the light change ahead of you and taking your foot off of the accelerator. You’ll learn to be caring and gentle—like rarely using more than an inch or two of accelerator or an inch or two of brake. You’ll learn to become one with your vehicle—sensing her pain at leaning turns, full throttle starts and lurching stops. You may not care that your crappy driving costs your company in wasted fuel, trashed brakes, struts, transmissions and engines, but I know you do care that you’re contributing to the more rapid decline of your once a proud rig into a squeaky, cranky rattletrap.

One reason it’s so hard to change driving behavior is because driving is intertwined with ego. I think the only thing that hurts more than being told you’re a crappy driver is being informed you’re a lousy lover. (Or maybe they’re related in a compensatory fashion.) But c’mon, the difference between an aggressive and gentle ride to the hospital is the saving of, maybe, a minute or two on a long transport. The savings in fuel, repairs, risk of accident and most of all, stress on your passengers is far, far greater.

So rise to the challenge. We already know you’re NASCAR ready when you drive to the scene (that’s another article). See if you can give your passengers such a smooth ride on the way back that they aren’t aware of what’s happening outside and that they can’t tell when you’re turning, starting or stopping. One of my favorite aviation writers, Barry Schiff, wrote a story about a senior pilot he flew with in the early days of his airline career. This curmudgeon insisted he stop the plane at the terminal such that the nose of the aircraft wouldn’t dip, and the passengers wouldn’t be able to tell the exact moment when the plane had come to a halt. To do this, instead of increasing pressure on the breaks as he came to a stop, he did the opposite; he gradually let up on the brake as the plane slowed until there was barely any pressure at all. And that’s what I teach my newbies to do in the rig.

So quit throwing me around the back of the friggin’ squad, and give everyone a break, wouldya? And need I say it? Turn off the damn phone!


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