High Velocity Human Factors Sciences LLC Reports
Performing any task under time pressure, leave alone high stakes, is hard enough. It gets harder when one is a driver; say, driving on a crowded freeway to the airport when we are running late to catch a flight. Now let us switch roles and imagine that we are driving a first responder vehicle, a fire truck or an ambulance to the airport, in response to a major fire. Where initial reports suggest that many are seriously injured, which includes a few fatalities whose number might grow if the situation is not brought under control.
Needless to say, the sooner we get to the airport, more the lives that can be saved. As an emergency responder our drive to the airport is filled with the percussive blare of the sirens wailing, lights flashing; including, a variety of in-vehicle radio communications (voice and data), which provide continuous updates to us, on issues ranging from coordination to what to expect on the scene. So that we are mentally, physically and organizationally prepared when we arrive on the scene.
An emergency response driver may have to participate in these communications as s/he must build a mental model of the unfolding emergency situation. He does this when driving at or above the speed limit, and deftly maneuvering the vehicle, through heavy traffic. Stated otherwise, the emergency vehicle driver’s situational awareness of the road, traffic conditions and heading (navigation) should be above the norm to avoid collisions or getting lost — which only delay the emergency response. Distraction takes on an entirely different meaning when you compare the citizen-driver with that of the emergency vehicle driver.
However, you would be surprised to hear that for all the attention “distracted driving” has received with regards to the citizen / consumer car (texting, cell phones, etc.), the emergency vehicle has received little attention, if any, in research, design & engineering and the popular press.