Guest Column: Move right for sirens and lights

Fire Chief Sam DiGiovanna

Now that Black Friday is behind us, there is something else to consider during this busy time of year. There are more and more people on the road now than ever before. This is the “season” and we will likely be spending more time ourselves shopping, traveling, attending gatherings and rushing about. This is when accidents occur as we have many distractions. If you or someone you love is in need of emergency assistance, you want help to arrive immediately. 

Did you know that there’s one simple thing everyone can do to help firefighters, ambulances and law enforcement officers provide emergency assistance as quickly as possible? Just move right for sirens and lights. 

Every year in the United States there are 16,000 collisions involving fire department emergency vehicles responding to or returning from incidents. Many, if not most, of these accidents would be avoided if everyone would just move right for sirens and lights. This also slows and impedes our response providing emergency care. 

Why then, doesn’t everyone just pull to the right? Many people panic. Some don’t know or understand the law. Others simply don’t adhere to the rules of the road. 

The law is very specific: Drivers must yield the right-of-way to an emergency vehicle. Firefighters work hard to avoid vehicle collisions by driving slowly when traveling against traffic, coming to a complete stop at intersections, etc. However, the cooperation of all vehicles on the roadway is essential. 

Simple rules 

There are some simple rules to follow when you’re on the road and encounter an emergency vehicle whose lights are flashing, whether the siren is sounding or not.

Do pull to the right and come to a complete stop. If you’re traveling on a high-speed road or if there is no room to stop, slow down as much as possible. 

If you are in the left lane, do pull over into the right lane as traffic in the lane to your right moves over. 

If you cannot move to the right because of another vehicle or obstacle, just stop. Your action will let the driver of the emergency vehicle know what you are doing and allow the driver to anticipate where to drive. 

When an emergency vehicle approaches you from behind while you are stopped at an intersection, do stay where you are unless you can pull to the right. 

On a two- or four-lane highway or street without barriers, both sides of traffic should pull to the right. 

If the emergency vehicle is traveling in the opposite direction of a divided highway or street, you do not need to pull over. 

If you are on a divided highway where traffic in front of you is at a standstill and you see emergency lights behind you, move to the right if you can; stay where you are if you can’t. Never move into the center divide—you could be moving into the path of an approaching emergency vehicle. 

Here are some more tips for avoiding emergency vehicles: 

Stay at least 500 feet behind any emergency vehicle. 

Be extremely careful when driving by or around a motor vehicle accident or any situation where emergency vehicles are parked and the firefighters are working. 

Do not move to the left—ever. 

Do not play your radio so loud that you are unable to hear sirens. 

Never stop in the middle lane when there is room to pull to the right. 

Do not pull to the left into the center lane, the center divide, or left turn lane. 

Do not race ahead to make the green light or turn before the emergency vehicle gets there. 

Do not turn quickly to the left onto a street or driveway. 

Do not drive through a red light or stop sign when an emergency vehicle approaches from behind. 

Do not disregard the presence of the emergency vehicle by continuing to drive. 

Following these simple rules will help everyone involved in an emergency: those who desperately need help and those who are hurrying to help them. Every emergency responder—firefighter, ambulance driver, police officer—will appreciate it when you move right for sirens and lights!