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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Emergency Vehicles Right of Way and Laws

What is an Emergency Vehicle?

Emergency vehicles take many forms and, while most are obvious, not all are. The obvious ones belong to state and local police and fire departments but there are other types of first responders that aren’t commonly seen on the roadways.

Law enforcement – Most law enforcement agencies such as the state highway patrol, county sheriffs, and local police agencies are easy to spot. Other state or federal agencies that also respond to emergencies or conduct routine law enforcement can include:

  • Department of Transportation – Conducting routine safety inspections on commercial vehicles.

  • Department of Environmental Protection – Responding to hazardous material spills or leaks.

  • Department of Fish and Wildlife/Forestry – Providing law enforcement on state lands and parks

  • Any unmarked vehicle equipped with sirens and flashing red or blue lights
    Some states mark these vehicles as “Sworn Law Enforcement Officer” or “State Law Enforcement Officer”. As such, the law enforcement officers driving these vehicles have the power and jurisdiction to stop vehicles and issue traffic tickets.

Fire/Rescue – Fire and Rescue vehicles can include:

  • Fire trucks

  • Ambulances

  • Command vehicles –such as the battalion chief’s car or large, on scene, command vehicles

Ambulances – Ambulances can be from both government and private companies

Tow Trucks – This is one type of vehicle that most people fail to think of as an emergency vehicle but the work of these types of vehicles is critical in keeping the roadways clear.

What to do when an Emergency Vehicle approaches

Drivers should always be on the lookout for emergency vehicles. In modern cars with air conditioning and stereos, drivers may not hear an approaching emergency vehicle. Often, police agencies, not wanting to warn a prowler of their approach, will respond with lights only and no siren.

  • In your lane - If an emergency vehicle is approaching in your lane, pull over to the nearest edge of the roadway and clear an opening. Seconds count in an emergency situation and any delay could be deadly to the persons requiring aid.

  • In the opposite lane – If an emergency vehicle is approaching in the opposite lane, be prepared to slow or stop if the vehicle needs to turn into your lane.

Following Emergency Vehicles

Most states have laws prohibiting any vehicle from following within 500 feet of an emergency vehicle. Some states also have laws prohibiting entering a city block where emergency vehicles are stopped with their lights flashing to prevent interference with the work being done.

Move Over Law

Between 1999 and 2009, more than one emergency worker per month was killed while aiding a motorist by the side of the road. As a result, 47 states have enacted some form of a "Move Over Law” . These laws require motorists who are approaching an emergency vehicle on the side of the road with its emergency lights flashing to move over into the opposite lane. If you are unable to move over you should slow down, in some cases to 20 mph below the posted speed limit. Studies show that most drivers are unaware of these laws but police agencies are enforcing them by issuing tickets to anyone who does not move over or slow down.

Treat any vehicle with flashing red, blue, or amber lights as an emergency vehicle and give them room to do their job.

Addtional articles on Emergency Vehicle Safety:
The Effect of Traffic Collisions On Emergency Personnel

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