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Driving: What to do when an emergency vehicle appears

We’ve all had the same experience when an emergency vehicle comes into view in our rear view mirror. The first thing most of us think, guiltily, is ‘Am I speeding or have I done something else wrong?’.

The vast majority of the time, however, it is not us that they are chasing; they are speeding to or from an accident or a fire and rescue situation and they need to get there as soon as they can.

So what should you do to help, and what rules are you allowed to break to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle?

Rule one: stay safe

It’s easy to panic when you hear the sirens and see the flashing lights of an emergency vehicle, but you need to keep your wits about you in order to react safely. Don’t slam on your brakes or swerve to the roadside or you could just cause another crash that slows them down even more. If you are not sure where the vehicle is coming from, look at the other cars around you and see how they are reacting.

You need to get out of the way as soon as possible, but only where it is safe to do so. Don’t stop just before the brow of a hill or on a bend, and always consider the pathway of the emergency vehicle so that you leave enough room.

Rule two: stay legal

It is a common misconception that you are allowed to drive through a red light, or enter a restricted area, such as a bus lane, to get out of the way of an emergency vehicle. This is in fact not the case, and many people have received fines for entering bus lanes to let a flashing light pass them. It might not be fair or reasonable, but it is the law.

Rule 219 of the Highway Code states that when confronted with an emergency vehicle, you should “take appropriate action to let it pass, while complying with all traffic signs”. The only drivers trained and allowed to break the rules of the road are the emergency drivers themselves.

Emergency vehicles on motorways

Emergency vehicles will often use the hard shoulder for rapid access to a crash or other situation, so never pull onto the hard shoulder to get out of the way. You might think you are clearing the road, but you could actually be moving directly into their path.

After the emergency vehicle has passed

You should take great care when pulling back into the traffic after an emergency vehicle has passed, as many drivers will be watching it off into the distance instead of watching the road around them. Also, some drivers who are in a rush may pull out quicker to jump the queue, rather than letting everyone pull away in the order that they stopped. The last thing you want is for the emergency vehicle to have to come back for you.

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