Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Sat-Nav leads to ambulance problem

I notice that I have already penned seven entries relating to problems with drivers and their sat-navs. Well here is another one in my area, this time involving an ambulance. It happened on Christmas Eve, a time when there were huge worries about icy patches on minor roads. A privately run ambulance was taking an elderly couple and family member home to Polperro from Plymouth's Derriford Hospital. It would seem that they had another patient to drop off because they evidently went to Liskeard first. Now I can tell you that there is just one sensible way to get from Liskeard to Polperro after dark (this happened in the evening) and with the possibility of icy stretches. From Liskeard you head west along the Dobwalls Bypass, at the roundabout take the left turn on to the St Austell road and soon you will be arriving at the Taphouses. Here one turns left on to the B3359 which heads south down through Pelynt before terminating at a T junction where one turns right on the A387 Looe to Polperro road, the last named village just being a short distance away. I know it's possible to turn off in Dobwalls itself and take the road on the watershed between the East and West Looe Rivers and on through Duloe but then there is the potentially tricky hill down to Sandplace and one would have to climb up again from Looe on the '387'.

So what did the ambulance driver do? He engaged the sat-nav and disengaged his brain (I'm not sure whether he had the latter though). The sat-nav I suspect would have sent him along the twisty hilly road through St Keyne and on to Duloe. Now we know that the ambulance had its mishap near Sowden's Bridge which is one of the crossing points on the West Looe River. According to the newspaper the vehicle slid backwards down the icy hill before hitting a wall and tree and ending in a ditch. No injuries luckily but damage to the side door meant the passengers were trapped inside. This happened at about 6.30 pm but with lack of signal in the valley it wasn't until 8.16 pm that emergency services located them and over two hours after that before they got stretchered out of the stricken ambulance.

You might gather from what I have written that I have a fair idea of the geography of the area concerned and sat-nav or no sat-nav would realise the best route option in the circumstances. Even if the chump driving the ambulance was less familiar than I with that locality why didn't he have OS Landranger map 201 with him to get a better idea of the options available from Liskeard. The small number of roads that cross the West Looe River are narrow and steep - I happen to know that but the information is readily discernible from the map. It stands to reason that the bottom of the valley would be potentially icy - water gravitates downhill does it not, the narrow lanes deep in the valley would get very little sunlight in them to melt any ice, there would be no incentive for council gritters to go there as it is sparsely populated and, as events proved, there would be little chance of getting a signal if an emergency occurred. A further point: in the admittedly unlikely event of the ambulance meeting a vehicle in the lanes either party backing up in the dark would not have been a nice experience.

Compare this with the alternative route I suggested earlier in the piece. My way would almost certainly have been gritted throughout, it would be relatively level particularly once on the ridge road that heads in the direction of Pelynt, not sure about in Polperro itself but the rest of the route should be in an area where there is a good signal and the road is reasonably wide (by Cornish standards anyway!).

Interestingly someone in my village told me some time ago about another ambulance incident where the driver got it wrong. This person was coming back to Gunnislake from Derriford and this was OK but prior to her part of the journey someone else had to be dropped off in Plymouth, in Stoke if I remember rightly. Stoke is south west of Derriford so the patient was somewhat surprised when the ambulance departed in the direction of Plympton - the opposite direction! Despite his protestations the crew just followed the sat-nav: perhaps they had been given duff information or there was a duplication of street names, I don't know. As far as they were concerned the technology was right and the old chap wrong. Fortunately in the end the gentleman concerned was delivered to his home address. Whether it was the same idiots who caused the mayhem near Sowden's Bridge I don't know.

Even in good weather and broad daylight I wouldn't have thought the expedition through the lanes after Duloe would have been sensible, after dark on last Christmas Eve it was the height of stupidity. Yes sat-navs have their uses but a (so called) professional driver relying 100% on this technology whatever the circumstances should not be on the road. The stupidity shown could have had far more serious consequences.

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