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How to Interact with Emergency Vehicles on the Road

Written by Jared Staver

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Jared Staver is a Personal Injury Lawyer based in Chicago, Illinois and has been practicing law for over 20 years.

Jared Staver

CATEGORY: Auto Accidents


We all know how important it is to yield right-of-way to emergency vehicles and to do the right thing in order to allow them to arrive to the emergency as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, when approached by an ambulance, fire truck, or police car with a siren blaring, it can be difficult to know how to respond in the moment.

Due to this, crashes with emergency vehicles are unfortunately common. In fact, one of the top reasons for law enforcement and emergency responder deaths is actually traffic accidents, in part because other drivers are not always sure how to interact with emergency vehicles on the road safely. Knowing the exact rules of sharing the road can help improve your reflexes and instincts. It may even just save a life.

How to Interact with Emergency Vehicles

  • Remember that all other right-of-way laws are subordinate to yielding right-of-way to emergency vehicles with flashing lights or sirens. This means that not only should you let the vehicles themselves pass by, but also any other car on the road trying to get out of an emergency vehicle’s way. Part of this includes letting a car enter your lane to move out of another vehicle’s way or stopping at an intersection to let through the emergency vehicle despite a green light.
  • When a siren comes from behind, make sure to get over to the right before slowing down or stopping. You do the emergency vehicles no favors if you stop in the left lane, and it can’t get through.
  • Still check your blind spot and traffic and use your signal before pulling over. There may be a pedestrian or another vehicle in the way. While they should be letting you over, you don’t want to cause another accident as you let an emergency vehicle by.
  • If an emergency vehicle approaches you from the front in the wrong lane (or even on the wrong side of the road), pull over to the right shoulder to let them through as soon as possible. Emergency vehicles especially do this when traffic is heavier in one direction, so if it is rush hour, be prepared to make way for the vehicle in any way possible.
  • Never follow an emergency vehicle closer than 300-500 feet. It is important to keep your distance, so that if the emergency vehicle has to stop or change directions suddenly you won’t be in danger of rear-ending it or getting in the way. In fact, while it may be tempting to ride behind an emergency vehicle to get ahead of traffic, this is illegal. In some states, it’s even punishable with jail time.
  • If you have to pass by a parked emergency vehicle on the road with flashing lights, get at least one lane over and slow down to 20 miles per hour. This ensures that if the vehicle has to quickly get out that you are not in the way.
  • Stay alert, even after the vehicle has passed. You never know if there will be another emergency vehicle on its way to the same accident or emergency. By staying alert, you ensure you are prepared for the next one.

When you follow these tips on how to interact with emergency vehicles on the road safely, you are doing your best to keep them on their way to a person who needs them as fast as possible. Although these guidelines are important, remember that the most important thing to do is to always yield to the emergency vehicle, using your common sense to decide the best manner to get out of the way in any situation. Our city will be a safer place for everyone.

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