Here’s something for drivers in training, and probably other driver trainers to consider. A circumstance I came across today while out with a client in the Logan Testing Area. For those not familiar, the Department of Transport Driver Testing Centre at Logan (south of Brisbane) is located at 45 Jacaranda Avenue, Logan Central. The general testing area frequented by driving examiners takes in, as a special favourite in reviewing Judgement, Willingness to Progress, Spatial Awareness and Hazard Avoidance, a railway crossing between Railway Parade and Station Road at Woodridge. Here is the Google Map reference. The road signage pattern, both in standing signs and painted road directions is mirrored on both Station Road and Railway Parade. Single lane carriageway with a right-turn sliplane allowing approaching traffic to cross oncoming traffic waiting at the give-way lines to turn left or right after clearing the railway crossing proper. The railway crossing ‘no-go’ area is very clearly marked with yellow cross-hatching, although in the graphics below, not shown as these are older captures from Google Street View.
Today, we approached from Station Road, turning left into the crossing, successfully negotiating the ‘No-Go’ area, stopping on the southern side at the give-way line, awaiting a suitable break in traffic to turn right into Railway Parade. The traffic was light to moderate. A vehicle moved into the right turn slip lane in front and slightly to our left, awaiting it’s opportunity to turn across our face & proceed through the crossing. We had to give way as per the road markings.
Behind us, an ambulance arrived, stopping very close to the rear of our vehicle. It was showing no flashing lights & sounding no siren. It was clearly still partially within the crossing’s ‘no-go’ area, which is illegal. The vehicle in the right turn slip lane in front of us obviously saw the ambulance as it was loathe to move. Just then, the crossing alert siren sounded, indicating an approaching train, and that the crossing red lights & boom gates had activated. Our vehicle was perfectly entitled to stay precisely where it was, clear of the ‘no-go’ area. My trainee asked, “should we go”. Ordinarily, I would have said “no, you must give way to the car turning right”. Before I could get the words out, the ambulance sounded its horn – a loud, raucous, klaxon-type horn – indicating that it wished to move. Still not showing flashing lights OR siren. The driver suddenly realised he/she was about to be caught in the crossing ‘no-go’ area with a train approaching.
Assessing the situation, I advised my trainee to proceed turning right. The car in the right turn slip lane could not move as the crossing lights & boom gate were activated, so we turned right and cleared the intersection. I’m writing about this incident here purely because it displayed to me, and to my trainee, that even professional drivers – ambulance, fire and police – are capable of making classic mistakes at the wrong times. What really makes me angry – if that is the right emotion – is that a professional driver made a mistake and then placed the rectification of his/her error wholly in the lap of my trainee to make a decision she should never have had to make. I am proud to state here that my trainee, while slightly flustered by the ambulance driver, maintained her cool and proceeded as I advised her to do. The situation changed from one which she had total control over, to one where she was forced to make a decision she ought never have had to make, simply because another driver – a PROFESSIONAL driver – made a grievous error in judgement that my trainee had to resolve.
The moral here is simple. Always be prepared for the unexpected. Always anticipate that other drivers will not be as prudent as you’ve been trained to be, and always adhere to the Hendon System of Vehicle Control in that you should understand the environment you are driving in, and have a plan at hand to evade hazardous situations. Sometimes, we need to be prepared to act in order to save a situation not of our causing. There is an old adage which states that you cannot legislate for stupidity. The driver of the ambulance today had clearly made a stupid decision in entering the railway crossing without knowing he/she could clear the crossing in the same movement. A valuable experience for my trainee, but one I’d never have chosen that she be exposed to by choice.