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How to react to emergency vehicles on the road

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If the emergency services need to get past your car to reach the scene of an accident, you need to be prepared to act quickly and sensibly, says Tim Barnes-Clay.

Ambulance

It is not uncommon to be driving along when you’re faced with the sight or sound of an emergency vehicle behind you or coming towards you - blue lights pulsing, siren screaming.

So what do you do?

Well, naturally, you should want to help an emergency service driver get through the traffic.

The best way to help

Indeed, the Highway Code indicates that you should look and listen for ambulances, fire engines, police cars and any other emergency vehicles, whenever you’re on the road.

However, issues can arise, because it’s not always clear how to provide the best assistance.

As a result, you can unwittingly put yourself in danger, break the law or risk damage to your car while trying to make a clear path for when an emergency vehicle has its blues and twos on.

Here’s how you can sensibly and legally help an emergency vehicle reach its destination quickly and safely.

1. Give the vehicle a wide berth

If you see an emergency vehicle has stopped, slow down and make sure you give it a wide berth as you pass. Watch out for people rushing about nearby in a panic.

2. Be prepared to pull over

If there is an emergency vehicle behind you, be prepared to pull over and stop where it is safe to do so – look for where you can let it pass through safely. Avoid blocking junctions or stopping in the middle of the road – indicate to let other road users and the emergency driver know what you are doing.

3. Avoid stopping on kerbs

When pulling over, avoid stopping on kerbs, pavements, bends and verges as they can hide potential hazards from the emergency driver and put pedestrians using the pavement at risk.

4. Look for space to move aside

If you hear the sound of emergency sirens but can’t see where the vehicle is, work out where there is space to move aside if it does come your way.

5. Check your mirrors

There may be more than one emergency vehicle approaching, so don’t forget to check your mirrors and blind spot before merging back in with traffic.

6. Don't panic

If you are travelling on a one-way street or you are unable to pull over because of congestion, continue driving – don’t slow down and make it squeeze past. Don’t panic and rush either. Allow the emergency vehicle to overtake you only when there is enough space and when it is safe to do so.

7. Don't break the law

Never speed up and outrun an emergency vehicle. If you go through a red light or into a bus lane to make way for an emergency vehicle you are still breaking the law.

8. Avoid blocking the hard shoulder

When travelling on the motorway, police, fire, and ambulance drivers may use the hard shoulder. Avoid blocking it to allow them to pass quickly and easily if they need to.

It is also worth remembering that the blue lights may be a signal for you to pull over and stop.

But, above all, drivers of emergency vehicles are highly trained professionals.

So bear in mind that they are used to dealing with awkward situations and are allowed to use bus lanes and go through red traffic lights.

Stay unflustered

Don’t panic in front of them – stay unflustered and move out of the way so they can get past.

Look at their indicators if you are near a junction – the emergency driver will try to let you know where they need to go.

In following all the above, you may have helped in your own small way to save a life.

After all, precious time lost could have a vital impact on someone’s chances of survival.

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