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What should you do when emergency vehicles approach?
Updated 10 Oct 2019
Before going for your driver’s license test, you would have studied the rules of the road in the hope that the regulations you’d memorised would come up in your exam questions.
But that was quite a while ago and now you simply don’t remember it all, right?
The seldom-encountered rules might be tricky to keep straight. All too often, the rules for dealing with emergency vehicles becomes unclear over time, but these rules are incredibly important!
Not only do lives depend on you taking correct action when you see emergency vehicles approach, but so can your wallet.
There are hefty fines levied and demerits issued if you’re caught disobeying the laws and getting in the way of an emergency vehicle.
What to Do When Emergency Vehicles Approach
If you see a police car, the fire brigade or ambo behind you with its lights flashing, it’s key that you know what to do. Follow these rules to stay safe and let the authorities do their job.
Keep your wits about you when you see an emergency vehicle approaching. Don’t make sudden manoeuvres or brake without warning. A poor reaction on your part could cause a traffic accident and further impede emergency services.
Pull over to the Left Side of the Road
Make way for the emergency vehicle to overtake. Pull your car over to the left side of the road to clear the way for police, ambulance, or fire brigade crews.
Move into the leftmost lane and reduce your speed or stop while the emergency vehicle overtakes you. If you’re on a two-lane road, pull onto the shoulder.
Give Right of Way
Regardless of whether or not the street light indicates you have right of way, an emergency vehicle with its lights on always takes priority.
If you have a green light and the emergency vehicle has its lights on at a red light, give way to it.
That could mean coming to a complete stop at the green light to let emergency crews pass.
Obey the Rules of the Road
Encountering a police car, ambo, or fire brigade on the road doesn’t excuse you from obeying the road rules.
It’s still your responsibility to abide by the traffic laws. You are not permitted to speed to get out of the way of an overtaking emergency vehicle.
In most cases, you’re also not permitted to go through a red light to make way for an emergency vehicle.
You must remain in control and aware of the laws if you wish to avoid being issued a fine or demerit points yourself.
Unsure of the rules in your area?
Each of the states and territories are responsible for their own laws regarding emergency vehicles. Even though they are fairly similar, there are a few differences to note, as highlighted here:
New South Wales
- Don’t run a red light or speed to get out of the way for emergency vehicles.
- Similar rules apply for funeral processions.
- Red lights flashing outside a fire or ambulance station require you to stop until the lights stop flashing.
- If you can’t pull over to the left, stop and allow the emergency vehicle to overtake.
- Queensland allows you to go through a red light to make way for an emergency vehicle, provided it’s safe to do so.
- You must make a reasonable effort to pull as far left as possible without breaking the law to do so.
- You must not drive more than 25 km/h through an emergency zone or past an emergency vehicle.
- You cannot inhibit an emergency vehicle or you’ll be subject to demerits and a fine.
- Funeral procession rules are similar.
- You must pull over to the left OR into another lane of traffic to allow an emergency vehicle to overtake. To clear a path, you may be required to mount a gutter.
The rules are in place for safety, allowing police, ambulances and fire brigades to attend emergencies as quickly as possible.
Treat the situation as though they are attending to someone you know and love, and respond accordingly.
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Jason is a Canadian automotive content writer with a background in the auto service industry, but he’s been hooked on cars and mechanics since childhood.
One of his first cars was an ’80 Mazda RX-7 that’s sorely missed to this day. A ’68 Ford Torino GT, a ’66 Ford Country Squire Woodie station wagon, and a ’96 Suzuki GSX-R 750 have spent time in his fleet of cars, bikes, and trucks over the past two decades.
Jason’s pride and joy is under construction – a turbocharged ’88 Mazda RX-7 convertible. Also on his resume is CASCAR official certification.