Community Health Watch: Emergency Vehicles

Download informative articles for community education. This month: Safety around emergency vehicles.


EMSWorld now offers Community Health Watch articles for use by your EMS agency. These short, pre-written, easy to use articles are intended to be educational for your local community members on a wide range of public safety and health issues, and may be branded for your use. Your organization is free to use this as a community column in your local newspaper, a letter to the editor, a press release or in any other way you see fit. Either copy the text below or download the attached Word document.

Use Caution and Common Sense When Driving Near Emergency Vehicles, Accidents

When you see flashing lights in your rearview mirror, what do you do?

If your first instinct is to floor it (“You’ll never take me alive!”), that’s a big problem—for you, obviously, and the other motorists around you. In particular, it’s a problem for the EMS, fire and law enforcement personnel who are trying to help someone else and don’t need to worry about you, too. Hundreds of ambulances transporting patients are involved in crashes in the U.S. every year, many because other motorists fail to yield the right of way. Don’t be that person.

Remedial Driver’s Education 101 says when you see flashing lights on an emergency vehicle you should quickly pull over and get out of the way. But there’s more to it than that.

Chances are you’re not the only other car on the road. When you hear or see an emergency vehicle of any type approaching from the rear, you should definitely pull as far to the right—or left, if there’s no other option—as possible and stop. However, you need to be aware of the other vehicles around you. First, check traffic around you, and slow down. Then, if traffic allows, signal and try to move to either the right or left lane. Remember, you’re trying to get out of the way quickly and safely.

Once you’ve pulled over and stopped, remain where you are until the emergency vehicles has passed before proceeding. Circumstances, such as highway driving, may make it difficult to come to a complete stop without endangering yourself or others, so use your best judgment. Even if you can’t stop completely, always move over as far as safely possible to allow emergency vehicles to pass.

If you’re traveling behind an emergency vehicle using its lights and/or sirens, stay at least 500 feet back whenever possible. Again, EMS providers are already focused on a serious, potentially life-threatening situation. Don’t add yourself to the equation by following too close.

Roadway accident scenes are also situations where driver’s need to use caution. If you’re approaching the scene of an accident and you’re leading a pack of vehicles, do the other drivers a favor and put of your hazard lights so traffic behind you knows there’s an emergency ahead and they need to slow down.

Follow the directions of emergency personnel. If you’re instructed to stop your vehicle, do so. If traffic is still flowing past the scene, pull over as far as you can in the passing lane and proceed slowly. As difficult as it may be not to stare, don’t become a gawker. Paying more attention to the accident than the road and the driving of others around you is a sure way to cause an accident of your own.

If traffic is funneling from multiple lanes into just one or two, be patient. Chances are someone else will let you into a new lane, so do the same for others. Always use your turn signals to alert other motorists that you intend to change lanes, and check your mirrors and blind spots before switching.

We’ve all been stuck in traffic because of an accident at one time or another. It can be frustrating, especially if you’re trying to get somewhere in a hurry. But remember, everyone else around you has someplace they need to get to as well. No amount of honking, gesturing or yelling is going to get you to your destination any quicker, so be courteous to emergency personnel and the other drivers around you. The life you save by following these simple rules just might be your own.

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