26 January, 2017

How to deal with emergency vehicles

Dealing safely with approaching police cars, ambulances and fire engines

This can be nerve wracking to new and experienced drivers alike, when you hear the sirens or see the lights, and there are a few simple things you can do to make everything work smoothly for yourself and the emergency vehicle.

Remember what the Highway Code advises:

Rule 194: Emergency vehicles. You should look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police or other emergency vehicles flashing blue, red or green lights, headlights or sirens. When one approaches do not panic. Consider the route of the emergency vehicle and take appropriate action to let it pass. If necessary, pull to the side of the road and stop, but do not endanger other road users.

‘You should look and listen’

This is something that you are expected to do all the time, your Look Assess Decide Act routine should be happening every moment you are in charge of your vehicle. However, distractions from passengers, radios and the like may mean that you do not notice things as early as you should. Be aware of these distractions. If you like loud music, increase your observations - don’t let yourself drive on autopilot - being surprised by something, especially an emergency vehicle, means that you have let your concentration slip. Bear in mind that speeds above 45 mph may mean you cannot hear an approaching siren from behind simply due to road and engine noise.

‘do not panic’

Easy to say, but not so easy to do. The simplest way of avoiding panic is to be aware of what is happening early, so that you can start planning. Assess the situation, and decide on the best course of action early, you will be able to put it into action smoothly and safely if you start working before you become a hazard to the emergency vehicle.

‘Consider the route of the emergency vehicle’

You may hear the sirens before you see the vehicle, and though advances in sirens do help you to work out which direction the vehicle is approaching from, in built up areas this is not always possible. Keep looking all around, including your mirrors. At this point, remember other drivers may be changing their own plans, be aware of other drivers slowing or pulling over ahead and behind you.

When you can see the vehicle, you need to assess it’s likely route. If you feel you may prove an obstacle to this route, you will need to plan your actions early, using the MSM routine.

‘take appropriate action to let it pass’

The easiest thing that you can do, as the highway code suggests, is to pull to the side of the road and stop. However, there are some situations where this is not possible. If there is no room for the vehicle to pass you, continue safely to the earliest place where you can pull over. Avoid pulling over opposite other obstructions as this will make the road narrower for the emergency vehicle.

If you are in a position to be easily overtaken, simply slowing down and moving over may be enough to allow the emergency vehicle safe passage, but be very careful - they have safety procedures to follow, and the safest vehicle to pass is one which is not moving.

If you are waiting at a junction and hear an emergency vehicle approaching, do not enter that junction. However if you are travelling toward a green traffic light and are entering the junction as you hear the siren don’t brake harshly, as the emergency vehicle going through a red light ‘should not’ put itself into your path until they can see that you have reacted to them.

If the emergency vehicle is approaching from the opposite direction, assess whether it has a clear run through traffic, taking into account parked cars or moving traffic it may need to overtake. It may still be necessary to select a safe place to pull over using your MSM routine.

‘do not endanger other road users’

  • Do not panic
  • Do not drive onto the kerb or pavement
  • Do not proceed across a red traffic light
  • Do not stop on a road with a solid white centre line on your side
  • Do not alter your course or speed until you know where the emergency vehicle is coming from and going to
  • Do not stop opposite an obstruction making the road narrower
  • Do not move off again until you are certain there are no more emergency vehicles, and be very aware of following vehicles moving off and using this as a chance to overtake

Most importantly in all of this - keep your head, and try to be as little trouble to the emergency vehicle as possible, one day you may need their help yourself.

(Originally published through Beyond Driving.)