Courtesy of the San Benito County Office of Emergency Services:
Each day, fire fighters, police officers, EMTs and Paramedics, and other emergency personnel respond to calls for help. Emergency personnel are required by state law to complete annual training on the proper way to respond to calls using lights and siren, and you, as a citizen, can help make the emergency response of fire apparatus, ambulances and police vehicles safer, but first, a short quiz.
You are driving in your car and you hear a siren. Checking the rear view mirror, you see a fire engine, ambulance, police car or other emergency vehicle approaching. Quick, what do you do?
Answer: Pull to the right and stop The California Driver’s Handbook states:
California law requires that you must YIELD the right-of-way to any police vehicle, fire engine, ambulance, or other emergency vehicle using a siren and red lights. Drive to the right edge of the road and stop until the emergency vehicle(s) have passed. However, never stop in an intersection. If you are in an intersection when you see an emergency vehicle, continue through the intersection and then, drive to the right as soon as it is safe and stop. Emergency vehicles often use the wrong side of the street to continue on their way. California Vehicle Code 21806)(A)(1).
Roads in and around San Benito County are more crowded, and many drivers are not reacting safely when an emergency vehicle approaches. From the cab of the fire engine, our fire fighters have witnessed drivers stopping when a fire truck or ambulance approaches rather than pulling over to the right side of the road. Other drivers weave back and forth indecisively, or follow the fire engine through an intersection to beat the traffic light.
All of these are unsafe practices that endanger the driver committing the improper act, any passengers in their car, other drivers in the area, and emergency personnel on the responding vehicles.
Another mistake drivers make is not looking out for a second emergency vehicle. After the first one goes by, they pull back onto the road and block additional emergency vehicles. Always proceed with caution. There may be other emergency vehicles coming.
It is important to remember the reason an emergency vehicle is using its lights and siren is because someone has an emergency and has placed a call for help. The call could be for a person having a heart attack, a fire in a home or business, or a police emergency.
California has a “Move Over and Slow Down” law requiring drivers to move over a lane, if safe to do so, or slow down when approaching a stationary emergency vehicle or tow truck that is displaying flashing amber warning lights, or a Dept. of Transportation (Caltrans) vehicle displaying emergency flashing or amber warning lights while stopped on the side of a highway or freeway. The law is designed to reduce the deaths of peace officers, tow truck drivers paramedics, Caltrans employees, and other emergency personnel who are aiding stranded or injured motorists or involved in road work. The law’s intent is to establish a safety zone to protect police, firefighters, other emergency personnel, and utility workers.
The penalty for violating the “yield to emergency vehicles” or “Move Over Law” comes with a $500 fine and is a 1 point violation on DMV record.
Emergency personnel are trained to respond quickly and safely using the vehicle’s emergency warnings lights and siren, but they need your help. So the next time you are driving and see an emergency vehicle approaching, give us a brake! Help us get there faster by pulling to the right and bringing your vehicle to a complete stop. If we are stopped on the side of the road, move over and help make our job safer.