August 3, 2010 @ 7:36 am

No matter how good of a driver you think you are, the second you hear the sound of sirens on the road, you might find yourself frozen and unsure of how to respond. We’re not talking about a police vehicle flashing behind you trying to pull you over, but one that you’re simply sharing the road with. If you thought we meant otherwise, you may have seen one too many episodes of the show COPS! Those police cars, ambulances and fire trucks have an important job to do as they come wailing down the road and the last thing any driver wants to do is stop them from getting where they need to be. The best way to make sure you respond correctly and quickly when you see an emergency vehicle on the road while you’re in your car is to know the rules!

  1. Move on over, drivers! Whenever you see an emergency vehicle on the road whether stopped or driving that has its flashers on, the first rule is to move over. Where you go depends on what the emergency vehicle is doing, of course. If it’s driving and you are too, then you need to get your car over to the right (the shoulder on a one lane road or the right lane on a road with two or more lanes) and leave the vehicle room to pass towards the left of the road. Drivers can make the mistake of trying to clear a path in the traffic based on where they think the emergency vehicle is trying to go. This just creates confusion with other drivers and the emergency vehicle that won’t pass through until cars are safely out of the way. The “move on over” rule also applies to emergency vehicles on the side of the road. If you see an emergency vehicle on the right shoulder give them space by moving into the left lane. This gives them room to work and reduces the likelihood of an accident. Most states will enforce this rule as a law and if you don’t abide by it, you could get a huge fine! To learn your state laws check out MIT’s list of “move to the right” laws by state
  2. Make safe driving a priority while giving emergency vehicles space. Don’t panic and get careless while trying to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle. Move your car over only when you can do so safely; use your mirrors, do a shoulder check and signal before you change lane
  3. Give space to emergency vehicles – a good rule of thumb is to stay 500 feet behind an emergency vehicle that’s flashing or using it’s siren, and a couple of car lengths behind one that’s not to give them room to respond if they receive a call!
  4. React to emergency vehicles even if they aren’t using their sirens. Typically, emergency vehicles will rely upon their sirens and flashers to make drivers aware they’re coming. If you see one on the side of the road or find yourself driving behind one that’s not loudly making its presence known, still give it the space it requires!

    Safe Motorist has additional guidelines for how drivers should respond to emergency vehicles  and you can find your state driver’s handbook here to learn the rules of the road!

    For more on driving laws, check out our post on texting and driving !

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