Health Break | Published December 11, 2006 | Written by Cheri Maiocco

Sirens & Safety: Yield Roadway To Ambulances Responding To Emergencies

You are in a hurry. You left the house 10 minutes later than you should have. You are on your way to work, school, the store, your child's daycare or even to church on Sunday morning. You have lots of things that you need to do and places to go to get them done.

Suddenly, a very loud shrilling noise is behind you. You look in the rearview mirror and see flashing red lights. You immediately see the word "AMBULANCE" as your senses are being bombarded with sights and sounds. What should you do?

As you become aware of the ambulance behind you, trying to creep past, pull around or safely scoot by your vehicle, your mind is quickly trying to determine where to go to safely get out of the way. You are aware of the oncoming traffic, intersections that are close, and there is no safe place on the right side of the roadway to turn. There may be road construction or too much traffic in the right lane to safely move over. So what should you do? Where can you go? What will the other traffic around you do? This can be a very confusing event for drivers of all ages.

If you drive frequently in Centre County, you will often experience this. As emergency medical service (EMS) providers are responding to an emergency call, you are now in the way. What should you do?

The Pennsylvania vehicle code, under Title 75, provides us with some regulatory rules and statutes that address these cases and issues. Some rules and regulations may vary due to municipal laws, but almost all Pennsylvania drivers function under the same mandates. These include pulling your vehicle over to the right side of the roadway for safety and staying clear of intersections and side streets. The code states that drivers have a duty to yield to all emergency vehicles, and they must move to the right side of the roadway and come to a stop. They must remain in that position until the emergency vehicle has passed, unless otherwise directed by a police officer or an appropriately attired person authorized to direct, control or regulate traffic.

Vehicles that fail to yield the roadway or don't move over to the right side or fail to greatly reduce their speed or completely stop pose a very dangerous situation to the emergency response vehicle and to other drivers. The right side of the roadway may become narrow, have deep ditches or have very little room available to drive on. There may be no space for an entire car-width due to a construction zone. There may be debris or a large deceased animal present that would damage your vehicle if it comes in contact with it.

Frequently, drivers swerve back into the right lane as the emergency response vehicle is passing to avoid these problems. This is very dangerous to all travelers on the roadway. So, play it safe and attempt to move over as rapidly as possible, definitely slow down and come to a stop. Pay attention to pulling back onto the roadway to avoid other traffic that was also disrupted by the emergency vehicle.

Pennsylvania has recently enacted a new regulation regarding any emergency (including towing vehicles) or law enforcement vehicle encountered on the roadway with the emergency lights engaged. This new law requires all drivers to slow down, move to the opposite lane if available or slow down to a safe speed that would enable the driver to come to a sudden stop in the event that the driving lane was suddenly utilized by people exiting their vehicles.

From all of us who respond daily to emergencies and disasters, we wish you a very safe and successful driving season this winter. Thank you for "getting out of the way." We appreciate your generous patience and your quick response to us when we encounter you on the roadways as we rush to help others who are in urgent need of our assistance.

Cheri Maiocco is a paramedic at Mount Nittany Medical Center.