How to handle driving near emergency vehicles

Posted on by Defensive Driving | in Defensive Driving Online
Uh-oh. You’re driving down the road and suddenly you hear sirens in the distance. What now?

Although driver’s ed courses address what to do in these situations, no one seems to remember how to respond appropriately.

Approaching from the Rear

The DefensiveDriving.com team has compiled a step-by-step list of how to react when an ambulance, fire truck or police car is approaching from the rear:

1. Slow down and check the flow of traffic around you.
2. If you’re leading the pack, put your hazard lights on so cars behind you know there’s an emergency ahead.
3. Turn on your blinker and pull over as far to the right as you can so the vehicle can pass you. It is important to drive as safely as possible so you don’t cause an accident or disrupt traffic further.
4. Come to a complete stop.
5. Pull back onto the road only after the emergency vehicle is a safe distance ahead of you.
6. Stay at least 500 feet behind any emergency vehicle with its lights on.

Approaching from the Front

While the appropriate response to an emergency vehicle approaching from behind is fairly uniform across the country, what to do if the vehicle is coming from the opposite direction varies from state to state.

According to the National Safety Commission, the correct response is to be prepared to slow down or stop in case the vehicle needs to turn into your lane. However, according to Texas law, drivers are required to pull over to the right until the vehicle passes no matter which direction it is coming from. In New York, drivers must yield the right of way to emergency vehicles approaching from the opposite direction on a two-way roadway. The DefensiveDriving.com team recommends that you consult your state laws on how best to respond in these situations.

Over the last 10 years, 47 states have enacted some form of a “Move Over Law.” These laws were created in an attempt to lower the number of law enforcement officers injured or killed during traffic stops; they require drivers to move into the opposite lane when passing a stopped emergency vehicle. If unable to move into the next lane, drivers must slow to a speed as much as 20 mph less than the speed limit.

According to the National Safety Commission, studies show that although most drivers are unaware of these laws, law enforcement officials are enforcing them by ticketing anyone who does not slow down or move over.

Stopped

If you are driving and come upon a stopped ambulance, fire truck or police car with its lights flashing:

1. Vacate the lane closest to the emergency vehicle.
2. Slow to a speed not more than 20 mph less than the speed limit when the posted speed limit is 25 mph or more; or
3. Slow to a speed not more than 5 mph when the posted speed limit is less than 25 mph.

Also, it is important to remember that emergency vehicles always have the right of way at intersections, no matter what.

A good rule of thumb in these instances is simply to drive as safely as possible. By giving emergency vehicles enough space to get where they need to go, you’ll ensure your safety and will help EMTs, firemen and police officers do their jobs!

~ B. Waldman

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