Loughborough University
S Macdonald Ames PhD Thesis 2020.pdf (15.56 MB)

How do emergency vehicle markings and warning systems influence the interaction between emergency and civilian drivers?

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posted on 2020-12-10, 08:53 authored by Sandra Macdonald-Ames
AIM. The primary aim of the research presented in this thesis was to establish if emergency vehicle markings and warning systems influenced the way in which either a civilian or emergency driver responded when interacting during emergency driving situations. This was achieved by utilising a variety of research methods and a wide range of data types, including self-report questionnaires, Police collision reports, and real-world video data. The intention was that the findings could be used to inform approaches towards improving the on-road interaction between civilian and emergency drivers.

BACKGROUND. Numerous emergency vehicle interactions occur without incident, yet some result in near misses, and collisions – both minor and serious in nature. Previous research (Shultz et al. 2009) has reported that civilian drivers often act in an adverse manner such as a panicked reaction (Gormley et al. 2009), due to poor vehicle salience, or modern vehicle soundproofing and technology distractions, when interacting with a responding emergency vehicle. Consequences of these negative interactions include feelings of frustration by the emergency driver, blame apportionment, and financial and reputational damage to the organisations themselves. Following an extensive review of the literature, research therefore firstly established the opinions of emergency and civilian drivers. Subsequent analysis of data, involving use of both marked and unmarked Police vehicles then helped to establish whether near misses and collisions occur as a result of marking type, through poor conspicuity (salience and warning systems) or as a result of behavioural change in the drivers themselves.

METHODS. The research was conducted through four studies, using a multi-methods approach, to establish i.) The attitudes and opinions of emergency service drivers towards the public through questionnaire survey. ii.) A comparison between both marked and unmarked Police vehicle collision data and the effect of emergency warning systems on collision liability, over a 4.5 year time frame utilising telematics data from both vehicle marking types. iii.) Analysis of Police real world video footage observing the interaction between a civilian driver and a responding Police vehicle. iv.) Civilian drivers’ perceptions of how they interact with the emergency vehicle when allowing for its presence on the road through questionnaire survey.

RESULTS. Important findings identified through self report questionnaires showed that Police drivers believed they were the least aggressive drivers, in comparison to their emergency service driver peers. Ambulance drivers were the most frustrated with other road users but were more willing to discuss their feelings, whilst Fire Service drivers were more likely to take risks in order to arrive more quickly at an emergency situation. Evidence gathered and reviewed showed that the public reacted in two distinct ways when giving ease of passage to an emergency vehicle. On high speed roads, civilian drivers showed an initial delayed reaction, but having observed the approaching vehicle, moved away in a calm manner. For interactions within an urban environment the civilian driver was more likely to commit a driving violation such as mounting a pavement or travelling through a red light. However, this was mainly due to the Police drivers making rapid progress when near to other vehicles, forcing the civilian driver into their subsequent actions. Analysis of telematics data showed that Police drivers in marked vehicles were more likely to be involved in ‘blameworthy’ collisions when the emergency warning systems were operational compared to when they were switched off. For ‘blue light’ use, this increased Police collision liability by 69%, for ‘flashing headlights’ use by 78%, and for ‘sirens’ use by 120%. However, importantly this behavioural effect was not seen in an unmarked Police vehicle as collision liability was found to be due to operational tasks such as stopping offenders. As a result, this study suggests that poor conspicuity was not a factor in collisions/events but was an outcome of Police driver behaviour and driving style.

CONCLUSION. The results are highly informative in providing an understanding of collisions between marked and unmarked Police and civilian vehicles as driver behaviour influenced the collision liability. It is anticipated that the results from this thesis could be used to influence emergency driver training through increased focus on emotion management in driving, and active occupational policies which engage with drivers. Training should focus on the increased risks of driving a highly conspicuous emergency vehicle, compared to its unmarked counterpart, and the influence warning systems have on collision outcomes. This would lead to an increase in the safety of all parties. In addition, it could potentially lead to reduced organisational costs whilst aiding the development of public education campaigns including advice on appropriate civilian driver response to approaching emergency vehicles through use of government literature and social media.



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Loughborough University

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© S. Macdonald-Ames

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A Doctoral Thesis. Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.


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A. Morris ; R. Welsh

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  • PhD

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  • Doctoral

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