How to Safely Respond to an Emergency Vehicle

How to Safely Respond to an Emergency Vehicle

Emergency responders have to get to the site of a distress call as quickly and safely as possible. Here are some tips on how to be safe on the road and help emergency vehicles get where they need to go.

It can be difficult to know what to do when an emergency vehicle approaches. Sirens and flashing lights from an ambulance, fire truck, or law enforcement vehicle can catch drivers off guard. Add that on top of being mindful of surrounding vehicles, and the fact that drivers only have a few seconds to react, and it can be an intimidating prospect to stay safe and not obstruct the path of an emergency vehicle.

Case in point: Dashcam footage recently released by the Michigan State Police shows one driver, unaware of emergency workers on the road, plowing into a tow truck and another vehicle. The tow truck driver managed to escape being hit by the out-of-control vehicle only by jumping toward traffic. No one was injured, but the video demonstrates exactly why drivers need to be aware of emergency vehicles on the road, and how to respond during an emergency.

What to Do When an Emergency Vehicle Approaches

Encountering an emergency vehicle trying to get to the site of a distress call is a fairly common occurrence, but it can still be surprising even to seasoned drivers. The Utah Department of Public Safety has listed some tips for drivers to safely respond to emergency vehicles:

  • Be aware of your surroundings at all times. An emergency vehicle is likely traveling fast to get to the site of distress call, so any distraction such as a cell phone or loud music could put you in the path of a speeding vehicle with little time to avoid it.
  • Don’t assume that a lane will remain clear. Always double check to see if there are any speeding vehicles approaching. Keep in mind that emergency vehicles can travel as fast as 100 mph. Signal your intent to change lanes and give a wide berth to the vehicles around you.
  • Don’t panic. While the approach of lights and sirens can be startling, it’s important to remain calm, as panicking only serves to increase the risk of getting into a crash. Move out of the way whenever it’s safe to do so. If police or highway patrol is approaching, move toward the right side of the road. If the patrol vehicle follows, it may be trying to exit the freeway or make a right. Continue to move until either the vehicle passes, or you pull over on the right shoulder.
  • Always move to the right. If you’re driving on surface streets, pull all the way over to the right and stop until the emergency vehicle passes. This may not always be possible driving on a freeway, in which case you should gradually slow and continue to move to the right until the vehicle passes.
  • Do not assume there is only one emergency vehicle. It’s not uncommon for multiple emergency vehicles to travel together. After the first vehicle passes, check for any vehicles following close behind before getting back on the road.
  • If you’re stopped at an intersection, try to make your way safely to the right. However, you may be blocked by other vehicles, in which case, remain stopped so the emergency vehicle can navigate through traffic. Continue through the intersection after the vehicle passes if it’s safe to do so.

Sometimes, as the Michigan State Police video illustrates, emergency vehicles will already be onsite and stopped in the road. In such a case, stay aware of the road ahead and scan for stopped vehicles. Slow down and, if you are in a lane that is blocked, merge into another lane, using your turn signals to indicate that other vehicles should give you space to move out of the way.

Follow these simple tips to make the road safer for yourself, and help emergency responders provide aid to those in need.

Drive Safely!

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