Sorry for not posting this until Saturday, but after the course I drove to Aberystwyth only to find the A44 closed because of a fatal incident and I had to detour via Machynlleth.

The day started with some miserable weather yesterday – plenty of rain, which is just what I didn’t want for the last and most important day of the course. Today, we were going to be doing our response drives on blue lights and our final tests from our instructor.

We got to the Driver Training Unit early as usual and after a quick cuppa we started looking at the theory behind response driving. Following on from earlier sessions in the week were themes such as safety and responsibility not only to other road users but to our passengers as well. Key was the fact that we would always compromise speed and position for safety – all the time using the principles outlined in Roadcraft for safe driving.

We also looked at the exemptions that emergency services drivers have whilst responding to incidents on blue lights. The exemption from speed limits for example is a well-known one, however what people may not realise is that this does not give us carte blanche to travel at whatever speed we want. Blue light drivers can still be prosecuted for offences such as dangerous driving, so at all times out driving has to be safe – in fact, we have to be above reproach as we are affecting other users of the road by contravening some of the principles that driving is based on.

We have a number of exemptions that we can make use of:

  • Handheld microphones Emergency vehicles can use handheld microphones such as radios to communicate
  • Speed limits Road Traffic Act 1984 Sect 87 gives us the power to exceed the speed limit, but not at a compromise to safety. Blue light drivers can still be charged with driving without due care and attention
  • Traffic lights Traffic Signs Regulations & General directions 1994, Reg 33(1)(b) allows us to go through red lights where necessary. However, it specifically stipulates that we must not do so in a manner likely to put other road users at risk. We do not have exemptions at pedestrian crossings – the public has right of way at those crossings
  • Keep left/right signs and bollards Traffic Signs Regulations & General directions 1994, Reg 15(2) says that we can ignore these where it is safe to do so

One thing we cannot do which is commonly misunderstood by the public, is that we do not have an exemption allowing us to cross solid white road markings. We can only cross them when everyone else can – to pass a stationary vehicle or one travelling below 10mph.

Once we discussed theory, we went on to look at scenarios in the classroom, and how to ensure that your driving is safe whilst making progress through traffic as quickly as possible. In fact, one scenario that we discussed occurred exactly that afternoon on my response drive.

After lunch we took the Western Beacons team Landrover and  left headquarters to begin our response drives. I was first up and my drive took me from Bridgend to Llantrisant, up through Church Village and ended at Power Station Hill in Pontypridd. Traffic lights in Llantrisant posed a problem due to drivers who just weren’t paying attention just as traffic at the top of Power Station Hill did – a minibus stopped for us there having seen us some way back and 3 cars passed him oblivious of our progress and between them managing to block the entire junction. The Fiesta who stopped in the middle of the junction with about 3′ of room for us wasn’t helping either.
From there, we swapped drivers and went through Cardiff, down City Road, past the museum, then past the castle, up through Canton, through Culverhouse Cross and out to the M4, and eventually back to Bridgend.

What surprised me was that we learned nothing new about driving today that we hadn’t already practised over the last few days. The system of car control is so key to being a safe driver, and it was just a matter of implementing in a slightly different way, along with learning how best to use the lights and sirens to achieve your goal. Gone are the days of blindly leaving them on at all times – we now chose carefully when to use them and when not to bearing in mind what people’s reactions will be.

I’m glad to say that I passed the course and have my certificate from South Wales Police. This course was an incredibly boost to my driving skill – I was a reasonable driver before this course but I look back and think of some situations and shudder.

I’ll be posting one more article on this course, more of a general one about driving, IAM, the system of driving and so on. 

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