Yielding to Emergency Vehicles

The tragic death of a not quite two-year-old child on the Georgia 10 Loop has spurred a considerable amount of discussion locally concerning what a driver should do when approached by an emergency vehicle operating in emergency mode.

Georgia law addresses this issue in 40-6-74 O.C.G.A. stating:

“(a) Upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle or a vehicle belonging to a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency making use of an audible signal and visual signals meeting the requirements of Code Section 40-6-6, the driver of every other vehicle shall yield the right of way and shall immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway clear of any intersection and shall stop and remain in such position until the authorized emergency vehicle or law enforcement vehicle has passed, except when otherwise directed by a police officer.

(b) This Code section shall not operate to relieve the driver of any authorized emergency vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway.”

At the time that I write this, the wreck is still under review; so, I will not get into specifics of the investigation, and I do not intend this piece to be a criticism of any of the parties involved. I am simply attempting to address the issue in hopes that it will prevent similar occurrences. The general facts of the case are that an ambulance was en route to a call and was traveling on the Georgia 10 Loop, a four-lane divided highway that forms a perimeter route around Athens and passes through Clarke and Oconee Counties. Upon seeing the ambulance, a driver stopped in the roadway and was struck from behind by a pickup truck. A third vehicle was also struck during the collision. The above facts are sufficient for the purposes of this discussion, and I will not delve into the other issues arising from this tragedy at this time.

Pulling to the right and stopping sounds simple, and under ideal conditions it would be easy to achieve; however, ideal conditions would preclude the need for emergency response in the first place. Traffic congestion may not allow for a driver to move immediately to the right and stop. Other mitigating but certainly not alleviating factors are that vehicle manufacturers are producing vehicles that virtually shut out road noise, and the market is burgeoning with communication and media devices that often get used within vehicles creating more distractions. It is not uncommon at highway speeds for the sound of the siren and the emergency vehicle to “arrive” at virtually the same time thus not allowing for much reaction time on the part of drivers. This is why it is important for the drivers of emergency vehicles to not look upon the lights and sirens as creating a magic bubble that will give them instant right of way and a clear path to their call.

Pulling to the right as soon as practicable and stopping until the emergency vehicle passes is the preferred and expected response. Simply pulling to the right and continuing may prevent the emergency vehicle operator from being able to make a right hand turn. If you stop and allow it pass prior to continuing, it should allow enough time and space for the emergency vehicle to make any necessary maneuvers.

 

 

3 comments

  1. Was the vehicle that got struck from behind on the same side of the divided highway as the ambulance? If so, the I understand the need to pull over whenever possible.

    However, if the vehicle that got struck from behind was on the other side of the divided highway, I have always thought that you did not need to stop if there was a physical barrier between the sides of the road.

  2. After years of driving ambulances and fire trucks I have learned that you need to expect the unexpected and that the bumper strobe lights are probably more useful than those flashing lights on top of the rigs and the siren. Except for the old “Q” ones that were really loud. Also, other drivers need as much time warning as possible to move to the right out of the way. When physically and safely possible I move my POV to the right and initiate my hazards as an acknowledgement to the emergency vehicle that I am aware of their presence. That being said, last week I was driving on a local city road with construction signs directing all traffic to the left because the right lane was closed ahead. Everyone did comply and then the ambulance came from behind and although I moved to the right I found that the ambulance was trying to go down the right lane. Now this was contrary to my emergency driving training and I was now in an awkward position of blocking the unit. I put the car in gear and moved down to a place where I could let them pass. The ambulance continued into the construction area where the workers were fleeing for their safety and the ambulance eventually did get into the left lane. I was upset and probably should have called his dispatcher but took a deep breath and prayed that the driver got where he was going safely. I guess I should have called but having been in the drivers situation before I’m sure in his mind he had a legitimate reason for his action. All drivers need more training along these lines.

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