What to Do When You Encounter an Emergency Vehicle While Driving

You’re on the road driving along, minding your own business, when suddenly you hear the unmistakable sound of sirens wailing somewhere in the vicinity. You can tell by their gradual increase in volume that they’re getting closer. What do you do? How do you respond? 

If your brain hasn’t mentally filled in the next steps yet, then this is the post for you. Here, we’ll be outlining the proper emergency vehicle safety protocol to follow when you have to share the road with vehicles such as ambulances and fire trucks. 

Knowing the right protocol to follow and being able to do so quickly is essential for both ensuring you and your passengers remain safe and that the emergency vehicles are able to get to their destination as quickly as possible, helping them perform their jobs in a timely manner. 

Once you hear sirens, follow these rules when pulling over for emergency vehicles: 

Step 1: Check your mirrors

Do a quick check of your surroundings to assess the situation. Check to see where the emergency vehicle is and get a general understanding of how other non-emergency traffic is structured.

Step 2: Begin pulling over to the right (in most cases).

In most situations, you should signal “right”, and then pull your car over to the nearest curb or shoulder. Exceptions exist in circumstances where the left lane is clogged but the right is mostly free, allowing an opportunity for an emergency vehicle to pass unobstructed on the right. In addition, if you’re at an intersection and can’t pull over, it might be best to stay still and let the emergency vehicle navigate around you. 

Step 3: Stop your vehicle completely.

After you’ve pulled your vehicle over to the right (as directed above), you need to stop completely. A lot of cars slow to a creep when an emergency vehicle is passing. This is not part of proper protocol. Your vehicle should be ground to a complete halt until, and only until, after the emergency vehicle has driven past you.  

Step 4: Don’t attempt to use the cleared road to your advantage.

Do not try to ride the wave of the emergency vehicle after it has passed. This can be dangerous, especially in congested traffic, where the emergency vehicle may be forced to an abrupt stop (or multiple abrupt stops). Wait until the emergency vehicle has passed you completely and then wait even longer. State laws may differ but, generally speaking, you shouldn’t be within 500 feet of an emergency vehicle when its lights are flashing and its sirens blaring. 

Step 5: Slowly merge back onto the road. 

After allowing the emergency vehicle 500 feet in front of you, and ensuring the coast is clear behind you, merge safely back onto the open road. Before merging back onto the road from the curb or shoulder, check your mirrors and blind spots to make you’re definitely in the clear. Be sure to signal “left” so cars behind you know explicitly you’re about to merge back onto the road. 

Failing to adhere to the emergency vehicles’ traffic laws can prove dangerous—and even fatal 

Unsurprisingly, the accident statistics around emergency vehicles are abundantly grim. Consider the following: 

* It is estimated that ambulances are involved in 6,500 accidents a year.

* 63% of people killed in an ambulance accident were in a passenger vehicle, 21% were passengers on an ambulance, 4% were ambulance drivers, and 12% were non-occupants.

* Police pursuits account for 300 fatalities in the United States each year.

* Per million vehicles driven, police officers nearly double the rate of motor vehicle crashes compared to the general public.

* Roughly 70% of all fire truck accidents happen during emergency use.

 Together we can dramatically reduce the number of accidents and fatalities simply by adhering to proper emergency vehicle safety protocol.