Sirens and Lights: What to do When Emergency Vehicles Approach

By Kimberly Graf. Published on September 12, 2018

For less experienced drivers, it can be stressful when emergency vehicles approach with their lights on and sirens going. You might not know what to do or find yourself at a loss on how to react. But that's why we're here: to help!

Know What to Do An ambulance drive

If you find yourself in front of an ambulance, fire truck, police car, or other lights-and-sirens vehicle, the first thing that you need to do is to stay calm and take a deep breath. Don't panic, because your reaction may be dangerous if you do.

Instead, take a moment to calmly identify where the sirens are coming from. If you can see lights, great – but sometimes you can't. Note that when an emergency vehicle is coming towards you their sirens are louder. If the car is coming towards you on the road or coming up behind you, you will definitely be able to hear a difference. If the sirens get louder and then suddenly quieter, this usually means that the vehicle as passed your location on an adjacent street and you have nothing to worry about.

But say that you've identified that the sirens are coming towards you. What do you do?

The first thing that you need to do is identify the quickest and safest way to the side of the road. You should always pull to the right side when an emergency vehicle is coming, so find a way to safely get over to the right side of the road. Do this quickly, but intelligently – don't put yourself, your passengers, or other drivers or pedestrians in danger.

pull over right side on road

Once you reach the stopped position, you should wait until the emergency vehicle has passed you. Afterward, always do a cursory check to make sure that it's the only emergency vehicle – sometimes, there are multiple vehicles going in the same direction.

When you're sure that the way is clear, you should use your turn signal and merge back into traffic. On surface roads this is simple, but on the freeway or highway, you'll need to get right back up to high speeds. Do this the smart way for your sake and for the other drivers on the road.

There are a few things to keep in mind during this process. Make sure that you're pulling over where there's enough room to park your car. Don't follow an emergency vehicle. If you happen to be moving in the same direction, slow down and stay at least 500 feet behind them to give them plenty of room to move and work as they need to.

Do not ever try and pass a vehicle with lights and sirens going. Not only is it dangerous, but very illegal.

A perfectly formed emergency corridor like this one is rather the exception than normality in most

Let's take a moment to talk about parked or stopped emergency vehicles with lights still going. Say that you're on the freeway and you're passing the scene of an accident where law enforcement and first responders are helping. You must move to the next lane over, away from the accident and slow your speeds down as much as you can on the road. This way, you won't be part of the accident if something happens – such as someone trying to flee the scene.

Fire Engine Truck of San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD)

In some states, this law might even apply to cars stopped on the side of the road. It most definitely applies to police vehicles that have pulled someone over. Give law enforcement, firefighters, and paramedics ample room to do their job – for their sake and the sake of the people involved.

As long as you stay alert and calm when an emergency vehicle approaches and passes, there is absolutely nothing that you should worry about. Obey the laws and stay safe and when this situation does arise, you won't stress about it at all!


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