Don’t Read this While Driving

Last week a New York Times article explored the distractions to emergency vehicle drivers from radios, mobile data terminals, and cellphones. The article is part of the Driven to Distraction series from reporter, Matt Richtel. I am passionate about safe vehicle operation for all EMS professionals. I used to train fifteen passenger van operators in a series of classroom and on-the-road sessions. A few things I learned:

Driver Training Lessons

While being observed by an instructor it only takes drivers between one and fifteen minutes to relax into their usual driving focus, posture, and habits. Drivers, with an instructor in the seat next to them, quickly switch from two hands on the wheel to one hand, stop scanning their mirrors, or rest their head back. An EMT or Paramedic driving the ambulance for the first time usually has five or more years of entrenched driving habits, including the use of distracting devices. We drive in the ambulance just the way we do in real life.

Most people believe they are a better driver than they really are. It is one of the things we do frequently, but receive very little feedback on our performance. Feedback could come from a drive cam and other monitoring data or it could be the simple result of asking patients and co-workers, “How was my driving?”

An uncomfortable ride in the ambulance is almost always blamed on the suspension or the road. Braking distance, rapid acceleration, and fast cornering are significant contributors to an uncomfortable ride in the patient care compartment. Increase time for braking, accelerate more gradually, and take corners at a slower speed.

Receive and Accept Feedback

A final critical component in becoming a better driver is being willing to take criticism and feedback. Accept feedback graciously and listen for specific actions to improve your driving skills and safety.

Other Everyday EMS Tips articles about the dangers of distracted driving and vehicle safety:

1. Vehicle Safety Tips

2. Tips to Prevent Deer Vehicle Collisions

3. Tips to Reduce Intersection Collisions

By Greg Friese

Greg Friese, Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is an author, educator, paramedic, and marathon runner.

Greg was the co-host of the award winning EMSEduCast podcast, the only podcast by and for EMS educators. Greg has written for,, Wilderness Medical Associates, JEMS Magazine, and EMS World Magazine, and the NAEMSE Educator Newsletter.