You’re in your car getting yourself revved up for work by listening to your favorite playlist when you see in your rearview mirror flashing lights. If you had the volume less than blasting, you’d also probably hear a siren. After you realize it’s not a police officer ready to give you a ticket and see it’s an ambulance, what do you do?
Mille Lacs Health System ambulance drivers can tell you that plenty of people have forgotten their driver’s ed class instruction on the matter. New MLHS Ambulance Manager Jon Siegle says it’s important not to panic. “We see this a lot where someone is not paying attention while others are already pulling over and they speed up (breaking the law) cutting them off, almost causing an accident,” Siegle said. “Signal your intention to pull over to the right and stop. Be careful so as not to cut off other vehicles, especially larger vehicles because they need more distance to stop.”
So how do you share the road with not only ambulances but firetrucks and police cars on their way to urgent matters? Emergency vehicles don’t always have time to obey the rules set out for the rest of us when they’re hurrying to get where they have to go. And their need to get there fast can put us drivers in dicey situations sometimes. It’s best to know the rules.
Right-of-way trumps all when it comes to emergency vehicles. That goes without saying, and that includes stop lights, roundabouts, and yields. When the vehicle is behind you and lights are flashing, slow down and check the traffic around you. If there is a clear spot for you to pull over on the shoulder, put your blinker or hazards on and move over so as soon as you can do it safely.
If the emergency vehicle is approaching you in the oncoming lane, you generally still should pull over and flip your hazards/blinker on. The reason for this is because emergency vehicles could have to drive on the wrong side of the road or on that center line if the traffic is too dense. Pulling over frees them up to do what’s necessary to keep moving.
As far as what to do when an emergency vehicle or police car is stopped on the side of the road, Minnesota law states: When traveling on a road with two or more lanes, drivers must keep over one full lane away from stopped emergency vehicles with flashing lights activated–ambulance, fire, law enforcement, maintenance, construction vehicles and tow trucks. Reduce speed if unable to safely move over a lane.