Don’t panic – just keep calm in an emergency


Be alert to emergency vehicles but keep calm and make way safely, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

It can be daunting when an emergency vehicle – blue lights flashing and sirens blaring – comes into view even when, if it is a police car, you know you have done nothing wrong!

It’s more a case of doing the right things to let the emergency vehicle through safely.

The other day I saw a car indicate to pull to the left so an ambulance approaching from behind could get through only for a following car to pull out to pass, forcing the ambulance to slow unnecessarily. Rule 219 of the Highway Code states: ‘You should look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police, doctors or other emergency vehicles using flashing blue, red or green lights and sirens or flashing headlights, or Highways Agency Traffic Officer and Incident Support vehicles using flashing amber lights. When one approaches do not panic. Consider the route of such a vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs.’

Here are some tips on how to stay safe and allow an emergency vehicle to pass with the least delay.

Be alert – you often hear them before seeing them. Check mirrors.

  • Try to locate the vehicle and consider the route it may take and take appropriate action to let it pass without breaking rules of the road.
  • Trained emergency vehicle drivers have exemptions to the law but you must not go through red lights or speed to allow them to pass.
  • Don’t panic or brake suddenly.
  • If possible, indicate and pull over to the side of the road, checking for pedestrians and cyclists. Don’t pull over on or near a hill, bend or narrow section of the road.
  • Don’t mount the kerb unless you absolutely have to and only if you won’t put pedestrians at risk.
  • If you are approaching a roundabout allow the emergency vehicle to leave it before you enter the roundabout yourself.
  • If about to come out from a side road, stay there until an emergency vehicle has passed, even if you can only hear it at this point.
  • On a dual-carriageway or motorway, signal to move to a nearside lane but don’t cut in front of other vehicles.
  •  If the road has a solid white line nearest you, keep a safe speed and do not exceed the limit. If you can safely pull off, signal and do so. If not, wait until the white lines end, then signal to stop, slow down or pull over.
  • After the emergency vehicle has passed, check there are no more coming before you continue.



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Ford’s belting new safety measure case of deja vu

From airbags to inflating seatbelts – Archant Anglia motoring editor Andy Russell says the Ford Mondeo is driving up safety.

Dr Srini Sundararajan, technical leader on the development of Ford’s inflatable seat belt system which is available in the new Mondeo.

Twenty-one years ago I was at the launch of the Ford Mondeo – its new world car that was leagues ahead of the Sierra it replaced and what rival car-makers were offering. The design got away from the ‘jelly-mould’ cars of the Eighties, the quality and look of the cabin heralded a new era for Ford interiors and it was a joy to drive. But the most memorable thing for me was it was the first car I drove with an airbag for in 1993, the Mondeo was the first car on sale with a driver’s airbag as standard.

Ford was so proud of the fact that it gave a static demonstration of an airbag going off – thankfully the only real-world airbag firing I have seen and I hope it stays that way. There was a bang, a flash of white fabric and a cloud of talcum powder – used to stop the airbag sticking to itself while packed into its housing. Ford was quick to stress it was not smoke and perfectly safe.

It started a revolution and now we take it for granted that airbags are part of a car’s safety package and not only expect front airbags but also side and curtain airbags. And more cars are now being fitted with an airbag to protect the driver’s knees in the event of a collision.

Now Ford is launching the fourth-generation Mondeo and there was a sense of deja vu at the media driving event to learn that the new car sees the European debut of its inflatable rear seatbelt which is designed to reduce head, neck and chest injuries for rear-seat passengers, often children and older passengers who can be more vulnerable to such injuries. In an accident, the belt rapidly expands to disperse crash forces across a body area five times greater than a conventional seatbelt.

It’s a significant safety development to combine an airbag and a seatbelt but it’s a shame that it’s a £175 option on all models but inAmerica, where they were launched, 40% of buyers chose the option.

The inflatable belts operate like conventional ones and are safe and compatible with infant and child seats and, being padded and softer, are comfortable. When crash sensors detect an accident, compressed gas is forced out of a cylinder below the rear seat, through the buckle and into the belt which is fully deployed in less than 40 milliseconds for extra support.

Unlike airbags, which generate heat when deploying, Ford’s inflatable rear seatbelt expands using cold compressed gas.

Ford sees the Mondeo as a showroom halo model for its latest technology and this is another example of Ford leading the way in making driving and our lives safer.

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Forgive, forget and just learn from driver error

We all make mistakes and losing our patience with other drivers who do just makes things worse, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

Losing patience with another driver is often a worse than the incident that led to it.

There are very few drivers, if any, who never make mistake behind the wheel. No matter how good a driver you are there is always going to be the human element that can lead to misjudgement from time to time.

Hopefully, they are nothing serious and no harm is done and we learn from them. I still recall my driving instructor’s parting advice to me when I had passed my test at 17 which was that no matter how long or how much you drive you never stop learning.

But what does annoy me is the people who don’t make allowances for other people’s error and their reaction is not only way out of proportion compared to the incident itself but they then proceed to behave in such a way as to cause genuine danger to other road-users.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting some good friends for the weekend who live just off the M3, south ofLondon. It had been a pretty uneventful journey down there and I was even thinking how sensible people were driving given that it was the end of the working week and people were on their way home.

And then it happened.

I was in the nearside lane when a Vauxhall Corsa had missed the exit off a large roundabout – it can be quite difficult work out which exit you are at when there are several – and made a late turn into the outer lane. I do not know whether they indicated but the driver of the Audi TT, who was also taking the same exit obviously had to brake sharpish and proceeded to blast the hooter at the Corsa driver… or maybe it was just a warning that was ignored.

Either way, no one crashed, went off the road or was hurt and the Corsa driver waved in apology.

End of story. Afraid not.

The Audi driver then chased after the Corsa, which had moved into the nearside lane, and pulled level before roaring ahead again, cutting in front of it and turning left at the next roundabout. The message was clear… but which driver was the biggest idiot.

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Monsters of motorsport a magnificent spectacle

Five-tonne lorries racing at up to 100mph proves hugely entertaining, exciting motorsport, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

I’ll never look at a lorry the same way again when I’m crawling along behind one having seen the monsters of motorsport in action.

As a motorsport fan I jumped at the chance to see the Snetterton round of the British Truck Racing Championship – a new experience for me – with Orwell Truck & Van.

Once you’ve seen the cut and thrust of these huge haulers hurtling round the track you’ll never think of lorries as slow again. With power more than doubled to a thumping 1,000bhp and able to hit 100mph from rest in less than five seconds this racing is fast, furious and, at times, almost frightening.

Under their skin these racing trucks bear little resemblance to the lorries we see on the road but, despite shedding a couple of tonnes, they still weigh in at well over five. That’s a lot of metal to stop so little wonder they have water-cooled disc brakes although banning anti-lock braking, traction control and automatic gearboxes makes for some twitchy moments and puts more emphasis on driver skills.

With top speed limited to 100mph, seeing three trucks abreast, bowling down the straight before the drivers hurl them into corners, often with the back end drifting out or snaking, is hugely entertaining.

Having marshalled motorcycle racing at Snetterton in my youth, it was also my first glimpse of the three-mile 300 circuit with raised grass banks giving spectators great views of large parts of the circuit.

Add the smell of hot oil, roar of finely-tuned engines and thrills and spills of driver and machine pushed to the limit and I’m hooked again.







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Cruise to control life in fast lane

Cruise control is a valuable safety aid to check your speed, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

If I asked you to name some car safety features I’ll bet things like airbags, ABS and driver aids such as stability control will be well up your list.

The modern car is loaded with safety features, both active and passive – the former help keep a car under control and prevent an accident, the latter help protect driver and passengers from injury if an accident happens – but I always consider air-conditioning and cruise control as much safety equipment as comfort and convenience features.

Air-conditioning really does help you keep your cool – both in terms of temperature and temper – when driving conditions get heated while cruise control means you can travel at a steady set pace.

It’s so easy to find yourself being swept along on busy motorways and dual-carriageways and you’re concentrating so much of what’s happening ahead and the traffic around you that your speed creeps up and over the limit… and before you know it you pass a speed camera.

In last week’s column I told how I had gone from dreading driving an automatic car to relishing it and it’s a similar experience with cruise control.The first time I used cruise control it felt more of a case of not feeling in control but now I could not envisage not using it on long journeys. Switch cruise control on, set your desired speed and let it maintain that speed… on the flat, uphill or downhill. It’s not autopilot but when you brake the cruise control cuts out until you want to return to the set speed.

The latest active cruise control systems maintain the chosen speed when safe to do so but use radar sensors to keep a set distance from vehicles in the lane ahead. If the vehicle in front slows, active cruise control automatically slows your vehicle to maintain that distance. When the lane ahead clears the system automatically accelerates your vehicle back to the chosen speed.

Using cruise control also makes you realise how inconsistent some drivers’ speed awareness is. For as you travel along at a constant speed on a multi-lane highway you cruise past a vehicle, only for it to then pass you at great speed before you overtake it again when it has slowed down.

On the subject of cruise control there is much debate about whether it should be used in wet conditions. There is some concern that if the drive wheels start to spin in wet or icy conditions, the electronics would increase engine revs to try to get the car back to the chosen speed, making the wheelspin worse which could result in losing control.

I don’t want to find out but always play safe and switch it off in the wet so I have control.

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Why an easy-driver is all geared up to be my automatic choice

The thought of driving an automatic car used to be a real turn-off but now motoring editor Andy Russell relishes the ease of the modern auto.

Smooth operator – modern automatic cars are a pleasure to drive

When I took the motoring journalist road the thought of driving an automatic car filled me with dread.

Dull, sluggish, thirsty and with a habit of lurching between their three or, if lucky, four gears when least expected, I could not see why anyone would pay extra for the privilege of an auto box.

Given the choice of a manual or automatic model, I always opted for the former… now I look forward to, even relish, driving an automatic. Automatics are now so good they often outperform the manual model when it comes to acceleration, fuel economy and emissions.

One dealership even made sure all models in its showroom were automatic versions to encourage people to try them with a test-drive and compare them to the manual. The result was a big rise in its automatic sales with some model ranges split half and half.

Modern automatics are a joy to drive – I recall being wowed by my first five-speed automatic in a BMW 3 Series in the early 1990s. Now it is not uncommon to have seven, eight and even nine-speed gearboxes which are so slick you barely notice the shifts unless you see the rev counter needle rise or fall.

My father has an automatic for the first time and it has given his driving a new lease of life by not having to make sure he is always in the right gear – one less thing to worry about so he can concentrate more on his driving. Even his little supermini has a seven-speed gearbox and driving it is a pleasure.

My elder son has also switched to automatic because, living on the edge of a big city, surrounded by motorways, it makes life so much easier, while not having a clutch pedal takes the strain out of stop-start driving. More manufacturers are using twin-clutch or dual-clutch gearboxes, which shift automatically, and many sports models are no longer offered with a manual choice.

Twin electronically-controlled shafts manage gear selection, always anticipating your next shift so it can be made in milliseconds. One shaft selects first gear; the second one puts the next gear on ‘standby’. As the gearbox changes to second, the second shaft is engaged and the original shaft reaches third. As you shift upwards the sequence continues in a series of seamless moves. They also give different driving programmes, generally normal and sport with upshifts at higher revs in latter. You can also change manually by nudging the lever back and forth or using paddles behind or buttons on the steering wheel should you want more involvement.

So, if you are in the market to change your car, check out the modern automatics… it may also change your perception and shift your preference.

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End of road for paper tax disc

It’s the end of the road for the paper tax disc as part of a host of changes to bring vehicle excise duty into the modern world of motoring.

I noticed at the weekend that my son’s car tax runs out at the end of October but he won’t get a new one to display in the windscreen.

From October 1 the paper tax disc will no longer need to be displayed on the windscreen – if you have a tax disc with any months left to run after this date, it can be taken off the windscreen and destroyed.

Instead of displaying a paper disc to show your vehicle is taxed, tax-dodgers will be picked up by the automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) CCTV network.

You can apply online to tax or SORN (Statutory Off Road Notification) your vehicle using your 16-digit reference number from your vehicle tax renewal reminder (V11) or 11-digit reference number from your log book (V5C). You can also pay at a post office. To drive or keep a vehicle on the road you will still need to get vehicle tax and DVLA will still send a renewal reminder when your vehicle tax is due to expire. This applies to all types of vehicles including those exempt from vehicle tax.

From October 1, when you buy a vehicle, the tax will no longer be transferred with the vehicle so you will need to get new tax before you can use it. You can tax the vehicle using the New Keeper Supplement (V5C/2), part of the vehicle registration certificate (V5C) online, or by using an automated phone service – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or you can visit a post office.

If you sell a vehicle after October 1 and have told DVLA, you will automatically get a refund for any full calendar months left on the vehicle tax and will no longer need to make a separate application.

And from October 1 (October 5 if setting up at a post office), direct debit will be offered as another way to pay for vehicle tax on an annual, twice-yearly or monthly basis but it will cost 5% more to pay monthly. As long as an MOT remains valid, the payments will continue automatically until you tell DVLA to stop taking them or you cancel the direct debit with your bank.

Vehicle history check provider HPI is warning motorists to be aware of the changes and highlights the risk of a fine, as well as facing penalty charges against a vehicle they no longer own.

Shane Teskey, senior consumer services manager of, said: “The move away from paper tax discs will save motorists money on postage and offers more flexible payment options, not to mention making it harder for tax-dodgers to drive untaxed.

“For used car buyers, from October 1, the vehicle tax will no longer be transferred with the vehicle, so it’s important to ensure they get tax as soon as possible.

“Importantly, under the new rules, used car sellers are responsible for notifying the DVLA and then they will receive a refund for any months left on the vehicle tax. Sellers who fail to inform the DVLA could be fined and they will still be liable for any speeding or parking fines and vehicle tax for a car they don’t even own any more. We remind sellers to always send the V5C to the DVLA, rather than relying on the buyer to do it. And if they scrap a vehicle, they should get a certificate of destruction (CoD) from an authorised treatment facility.

“We’re hoping that the new DVLA initiatives will make it harder for dodgy drivers to head out on the road untaxed. It’s easy to check if your vehicle is taxed by heading online at the Vehicle Enquiry Service, making this the first step for anyone planning to sell their vehicle and avoid the risk of fines.”

For more information visit, or

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See your way to keeping windows clean

It might be the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness but, beware, it is also the season of misty murk and smeary screens, says motoring editor Andy Russell.

It’s vital to keep screens clean and clear especially as the sun sits lower

It’s been a funny old year so far with the glorious, but unexpected, spring weather giving nature a head start and the hot summer sunshine and timely showers bringing plants and crops to fruition earlier than normal.

But now I can’t help feeling that we are already heading into the autumn earlier than normal; the evenings are pulling in, the nights have become pleasantly and pleasingly cooler and I’ve noticed that the mornings are starting to have a bit of a nip in the air and a touch of mist lingers until the sun burns it off.

The combination of warm days and cooler nights means that we are starting to see condensation on the outside of the car windows and warm breath misting up windscreens in the morning. So the trusty rubber blade and cloth have come off the shelf in the garage to clear the condensation from the glass so I have clear views all round before setting off.

It takes only a couple of minutes at most to wipe them clean but makes driving much easier and safer so, if you don’t have a garage or leave your car out night, go out to the car a little earlier in the morning to dry off the car windows.

I’ve been using a water-repellent glass treatment on the outside of the windows of our car and it certainly helps encourage any water to run off, especially as there is no wiper on the rear screen. Now I am also using an anti-fog treatment for the inside of the windows after seeing it being used to stop the windscreens of stripped-out British Touring Car Championship contenders misting up during races.

If you haven’t got round to having your vehicle’s air conditioning serviced this summer don’t leave it until next year.

I’m feeling smug as I invested 60 quid in having our car’s air-con system serviced and re-gassed and the difference in its performance is remarkable.

The air-conditioning gets much colder, more quickly and, because it does not have to work so hard, fuel economy is slightly better too.

And, just as importantly, it tackles misty morning windscreen syndrome efficiently and effectively so while you are clearing condensation from the outside of the windows the air-con is demisting the interior.

With the sun getting lower you also notice how smeary the inside of the windscreen becomes which can be hazardous. You can buy special cleaning cloths, which are handy to keep in the car, but one tip I was given was to wipe the inside of the screen with neat screen wash additive to remove the grime and then buff it up with a clean cloth.

If you spot any little chips in the windscreen, it’s worth getting them repaired – if they can be – before the weather turns colder and frosts cause them to crack.

It might be the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness but, beware; it is also the season of misty murk and smeary screens.

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