Blue-Light Driving

Rescue units practice extreme situations

The rhythmically flashing blue lights reflect on the walls of the buildings in the deepening twilight. Meanwhile, rain droplets beat down upon the ambulance windshield in loud exploding spheres, accompanied only by the penetrating blare of the siren.

The dispatcher reconfirms the emergency location over the radio. Through the vibrations in his seat and steering wheel, the driver senses the cobblestone pavement beneath his racing ambulance. He instinctively moves in parallel with the rolling motion of his vehicle as he speeds across downtown Zurich to the reported scene of the accident. He glances in the rearview mirror to see whether he can switch back into his lane after just passing a motor scooter. He has just spotted the “School Crossing” sign in the corner of his eye when a child suddenly jumps out from behind a parked car onto the rain-slicked street.

It´s not only in Switzerland that practicing emergency Ambulance driving procedures is generally prohibited

A situation absolutely no one wants to encounter – the kind that tests the nerves of even the most highly experienced ambulance drivers. A situation everyone is happy to have faced as an exercise in a simulator without anyone actually getting hurt. “Since Switzerland isn’t the only country where running rescue training missions with blue lights and sirens is generally forbidden, police, ambulance, and fire rescue units have no other option than to practice their crisis skills in a simulator,” explains Johann Walther, who has been CEO of Rheinmetall Swiss SIMTEC AG based in Thun, Switzerland since early this year. Among other product lines, his company specializes in this type of training simulators within the Rheinmetall Technology Group.

At the forefront of technology

In the meantime, the special blue light driving simulators account for about 20 percent of its annual sales revenue. Walther knows that maintaining as much realism as possible is crucial for the success of the exercise: “The realism depicted in the simulators never ceases to delight our customers.” By contrast with competing systems, his almost 180,000-EUR-machines feature ultrahigh 4K resolution monitors. In a certain sense, they function as the windshields of the emergency vehicle – and can even fog up when desired to make the exercise more challenging. Furthermore, the entire driver’s cab rests on servomotors that are maneuverable in six directions. Jolts and vibrations are directly relayed to the driver via the seat. The simulators are equipped with very complex software jointly developed with the parent company in Bremen that – whether it be in a police car, ambulance, or fire truck – simulates virtually any conceivable crisis situation, thereby enabling it to be drilled and practiced.

Deer on the right

It doesn’t matter what the road condition, weather, crisis scene or dangerous situation might be. From the aforementioned urban street scenario to an unexpected deer crossing on an icy country road to a multi-vehicle pursuit of a lunatic driver on the highway, almost every possible contingency can be trained and prepared for. Other realistic situations increasingly encountered include a missing emergency lane or a traffic participant overwhelmed by the flashing blue lights of an approaching vehicle.

Eye tracker sees everything

Test persons in the driver’s seat are thoroughly pushed to their limits. For example, even when using blue lights and the siren while in hot pursuit of a potential criminal, police must constantly weigh the appropriateness of their actions and decide accordingly. No wonder sweat appears on the foreheads of practicing drivers as a modern, completely helmetless and goggleless eye-tracking system registers the fixed points in the rearview mirror or direction of travel and relays them to the monitor of the exercise instructor. After all, practice makes perfect – especially when driving under bluelight conditions.

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