Safe driving: what to do when you hear emergency sirens

By admin
26 September 2013

When you hear the siren of an emergency vehicle trying to make its way through the traffic to the scene of an accident you might feel a little overwhelmed.

  Flickr - Richard Masoner 

Here are a few tips for driving safely once you’ve heard the sirens of an emergency vehicle:

  • Don’t panic when you hear the siren.
  • Don’t stop abruptly at the wrong place or make a dangerous move. This could threaten the safety of not only the emergency vehicle, but also other road users.
  • Give way, especially during rush hour.
  • Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by the emergency vehicle, in turn causing bottlenecking and dangerous traffic situations.

 There are also increased risks at specific locations:

  • Don’t stop on a hill or blind bend. This puts the emergency vehicle driver in further jeopardy.
  • Don’t pull over at the entrance to a hospital or fire station. This may hinder one of the emergency vehicles from leaving or arriving safely.
  • When you spot a stopped or parked emergency vehicle you need to slow down and continue with caution, giving the vehicle a wide berth. Watch out for obstacles, other drivers and rubberneckers.
  • Don’t block road junctions or intersections: this will obstruct the emergency vehicle.

General driving habits:

  • Be prepared ? look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police or other emergency vehicles using flashing blue, red or green lights, headlights and sirens.
  • Regularly scan your rear-view mirror.
  • Stay calm and make well-informed decisions while staying safe and within the rules of safe driving and the law.
  • Remain aware of vehicles to your right and left as well as vehicles possibly in your mirrors' blind spots.

What do you need to do once you’ve heard the sirens?

  • Check your rear-view and side mirrors to estimate the speed of the emergency vehicle and plan your next move.
  • Start looking ahead for a safe area where you can pull over.
  • If it would be unsafe to bring your vehicle to a safe stop ? move forward at a slow speed.
  • Confused or nervous drivers who stay in motion, not knowing what to do or where to go are the drivers who usually collide with other motorists or the emergency vehicle.
  • Always signal your intent to emergency vehicles and other road users by using your indicators.
  • Pull over to the inside lane if possible and wait for the emergency vehicle to pass.
  • Keep a foot on the brake so the brake lights let emergency vehicle drivers know you’ve stopped.
  • Keep in mind there may be more emergency vehicles heading in the same direction.
  • Be prepared in case you may be approaching the scene of a road crash.
  • When you see a stopped emergency vehicle slow down and move over a lane if possible. If traffic or other conditions prevent you from changing lanes, slow down and proceed with caution.
  • When passing the scene of an accident don’t be distracted or slow down unnecessarily ? avoid causing another crash.
  • When you’re at an intersection with a stop sign or red light and a response vehicle is coming up behind you, stay where you are if you can’t pull to the left.
  • Anticipate the likely route the driver of the emergency vehicle will take. If you're on a long road with no turns ahead, it's sensible to assume the emergency driver wishes to drive straight on and get past you.
  • Check to make sure the way is clear and signal before merging gradually into the faster-flowing traffic.

What do you need to avoid doing?

  • Avoid driver distractions such as loud music that may prevent you from hearing sirens timeously – keep the noise levels down inside your vehicle.
  • Don’t disregard the emergency lights and sirens and continue to travel despite the response vehicle.
  • Don’t pull over to the right or stop in the middle lane when there’s room to pull over to the left.
  • Don’t race ahead trying to cross the green traffic light before the emergency vehicle gets there.
  • Never drive through a red light or stop sign when an emergency vehicle approaches from behind.
  • Don’t try to overtake an emergency vehicle displaying flashing lights unless directed to do so by a police officer or emergency personnel.
  • Emergency services will use the hard shoulder if all lanes are blocked, so don't drive onto, or block the hard shoulder.
  • Keep a following distance and avoid following behind emergency vehicles too closely – it’s dangerous and may be illegal!
  • Avoid making sudden movements once an emergency vehicle has passed – there may be more response vehicles heading your way!

These tips will help you to assist emergency response personnel to provide fast and effective help. If you had an emergency or a loved one was in peril you’d want the emergency services to reach them as quickly as possible, so bear that in mind when you see those flashing lights and hear those sirens headed your way!

-Faiza Mallick


Picture: Flickr - Richard Masoner

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