Motorbike vs. ambulance

1st May 2008 – 8.19 am

Heading home from work yesterday I encountered the sadly familiar sight of slow-moving traffic on the motorway, as it edged its way through the roadworks for ten miles or so. I have about six miles to travel through it before a contraflow section allows me to break away from the M25 traffic and move a bit more smoothly. When the traffic is moving so slowly as it was yesterday afternoon I will filter through the traffic, between the outside lane and its neighbouring lane.

As I started cautiously filtering my way through the traffic I noticed, around three-quarters of a mile ahead of where I was, blue flashing lights. I wondered if this meant there had been an accident up ahead that would cause even more delays than normal, particularly once I realised the emergency vehicle was an ambulance. The traffic was moving in fits and starts but was constantly moving, so the likelihood of a traffic-stopping accident having happened ahead was slight. Even so, the blue lights continued to flash and the ambulance was having to pick its way through the traffic in much the same way I was. I wondered if I would catch it up at some point.

The ambulance had the advantage of being an emergency vehicle, compelling motorists to get out of its way, and few people object to the flashing lights and horns of an ambulance. The same is hardly true of motorbikes. Not many motorists see bikes before they are passed, although most that spot bikes are kind enough to make some room. I haven't really tested whether flashing my lights or sounding my horn would help me get through traffic, but I am not about to try as it would presume that I, on my bike, have some inherent right to get through traffic quicker. I know that this just isn't the case and sometimes I have to bear jams with car drivers, so I don't try to force people to make room for me.

It might seem that the width of the ambulance compared to a bike would be a disadvantage, but as it was heading south it was travelling on the resurfaced and mostly open section of the motorway with its lovely wide lanes. This meant the ambulance could almost filter through most traffic in the same way I was, with motorists squeezing to the sides to make room. I still had an advantage there as I didn't have to rely on motorists moving to one side before I could fit through the gaps. However, the ambulance knew when motorists had seen it approach, as the cars got out of the way, making for safe passage past the cars as fast as they moved out of the way. I had no such luxury, as I couldn't guarantee that motorists had seen me or that cars wouldn't be changing lanes as I approached, so even though I needed less room to pass I had to limit my speed more.

I almost caught up with the ambulance by the time I reached the contraflow section. There were two vehicles between me and it when we both joined the contraflow, and that number would have been one less had an idiotic motorist not decided to sneak past a van that had moved out of the way of the ambulance. Whilst it was interesting to see how my bike fared against an ambulance in heavy motorway traffic I was a little concerned about actually catching up with it. I probably wouldn't have been able to pass it, and not really wanted to, and following directly behind it would have been borderline illegal as well as rather dangerous should people move back in to their lane fully without checking to see if anything was behind the ambulance.

  1. One Response to “Motorbike vs. ambulance”

  2. Is 'bear jams' the correct phrase, or should it be 'bear pâtés'?

    By pjharvey on May 1, 2008

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