With the number of vehicles on our roads increasing by the day, emergency vehicle drivers are increasingly challenged to get to the scene of an incident quickly and safely. But the way you respond when you see the blue and reds can make a big difference.
Being vigilant and observant is a skill that should be practiced by all drivers in all situations, but keeping your eyes and ears open at all times will help you detect emergency vehicles early, allowing you enough time to react safely.
If you see blue or red lights or hear a siren, assume an emergency vehicle is approaching and give yourself enough time to plan. If you wait until the vehicle is on your tail you will have very few options left.
Look for a place to pull over and stop even if the emergency vehicle is on the opposite side of the road. If all cars in the vicinity of the approaching lights respond, it’s likely the driver will have more options to get through any congestion faster.
Use your indicators to show the emergency vehicle you have seen them and are pulling over. This will also signal to other road users that may not have seen the emergency vehicle. Keep off kerbs and pavements and bear in mind the presence of an emergency vehicle is not authorisation to contravene road rules and the law.
When you see one emergency vehicle, it’s possible there will be others responding to the same call. Keep your eyes and ears open for others once the first has passed.
At traffic lights, emergency vehicles are authorised to pass a red light but you are not. The only exception is if a uniformed police officer indicates you to do so. If so, ensure you follow the officer’s instructions closely.
If there is no way for the vehicle to pass you at a red light, the best action is to wait until it changes green and move off normally.
If you are at a junction or roundabout, wait for the emergency vehicle to pass you. If you have to move to assist its passage respond predictably and calmly, and avoid sudden movements or braking.
On the freeway, give emergency vehicles plenty of room and don’t overtake.
If approaching a curve or blind crest, keep going at the speed limit until you find a safer place for the vehicle to pass. The trained driver will not put themselves or any other road users at risk by trying to pass unsafely.
Watch for signals from the emergency vehicle in your mirrors. If it is a police vehicle, the officer may be signalling for you to stop.
The law regarding emergency vehicles
According to rule 78 part 2 of the Australian Road Safety Rules 2009: “If a driver is in the path of an approaching police vehicle, emergency vehicle, enforcement vehicle or escort vehicle that is displaying a flashing blue, red or magenta light (whether or not it is also displaying other lights) or sounding an alarm, the driver must move out of the path of the vehicle as soon as the driver can do so safely.”
When an emergency vehicle approaches a red light and your signal is green at a signalled crossroads for example, your duty as a road user is explained by rule 79: “A driver must give way to a police vehicle, emergency vehicle, enforcement vehicle or escort vehicle that is displaying a flashing blue, red or sounding an alarm.”
Hip-pocket penalties apply for ignoring either of these rules.
As of July 1 this year, a new rule was introduced in Victoria to increase the safety of road users near stationary or slow-moving emergency vehicles, with a maximum speed of 40km/h required until at a safe distance.
“You must slow down to a speed that would enable you to stop safely when approaching and passing enforcement, emergency or escort vehicles that are stationary or moving slowly (less than 10km/h)”.
The number one piece of advice is to stay calm, safe and legal when reacting to an emergency vehicle. There is no point trying to assist fire, ambulance or police personnel if you are at risk of a crash.
In summary, be aware and observant at all times on the road, not just for the presence of emergency vehicles but all road hazards and potential problems. If you follow these simple rules you could be helping to save a life by allowing emergency services to respond faster to a call for help.