Making way for emergency vehicles

When you hear the sound of an ambulance, you are expected to make room for it to pass. There are plenty of video compilations on the web about how drivers in different countries react to the sound of an ambulance and in some cases, drivers seem to ignore the siren. Most of us try to make way as quickly and as safely as possible, but may not pay as much attention as to whether what we are doing is strictly legal since we may think that yielding immediate right of way to the ambulance takes priority over minor traffic rules, and that we would not be penalized.

But in the UK at least, you can be fined for making way for emergency vehicles if you break a rule. The link gives you the things that you should not do, such as:

Advice online says you should not break the law to make way for police, fire and ambulance vehicles – this includes entering bus lanes or running red lights.

Do not try to speed or outrun an emergency vehicle, only allow the emergency vehicle to overtake only when there is space to do so and it is safe.

When driving on a motorway emergency services are likely to use the hard shoulder if lanes are slow moving, so don’t use the lane but instead pull over to the inside to wait for the emergency vehicle to pass.

Of course, many drivers will be willing to break the rules in order to let an emergency vehicle to help it pass more quickly and make its way to the incident, but it is worth noting that you are liable for any offences committed.

There are other rules you should not break. It says that ambulance drivers do not expect you to move aside immediately whatever the cost but only if it is safe and legal to do so.

Good to know.

What about in the US? The California driver’s handbook (which I suspect is similar to that of other states) is much less restrictive (see page 74).

Drive to the right edge of the road and stop until the emergency vehicle(s) have passed. However, never stop in an intersection. If you are in an intersection when you see an emergency vehicle, continue through the intersection, and then drive to the right as soon as it is safe and stop. Emergency vehicles often use the wrong side of the street to continue on their way. They sometimes use a loudspeaker to talk to drivers blocking their path.

You must obey any traffic direction, order, or signal given by a traffic or peace officer, or a firefighter even if it conflicts with existing signs, signals, or laws.

It says nothing about not going through a red light but that seems like a good thing not to do anyway.


  1. says

    There are times when I’ve thought that perhaps fire trucks should be allowed to push aside vehicles that refuse to move and drivers are financially liable, similar to the way fire fighters can break the windows of cars parked illegally next to fire hydrants.

    Unfortunately, such a system would eventually lead to abuse by cities. People who did not drive or park illegally could find their vehicles damaged, and have no legal recourse to seek compensation, as one man from Dayton, Ohio found out.

  2. Jörg says

    In Germany, making room for emergency vehicles has priority before other rules, and you can be fined if you don’t. If you have to go through a red light, you should do that carefully and without endangering others.
    When traffic jams on autobahns are announced in the half-hourly traffic news on the radio, afterwards the news presenter often says, “build a corridor for emergency vehicles!”

  3. prl says

    The Australian road rules seem to allow a driver to break other road rules in order to allow an emergency vehicle to pass:

    78 Keeping clear of police and emergency vehicles

    (2) If a driver is in the path of an approaching police or emergency vehicle that is displaying
    a flashing blue or red 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.

    (3) This rule applies to the driver despite any other rule of the Australian Road Rules.

  4. ardipithecus says

    I’ve never heard of anyone around here being ticketed for a driving violation when getting out of the way of an emergency vehicle. However, if you get in an accident while doing so, it will be your fault.

    FWIW, I drove ambulance for a year and very very few people don’t do their best to get out of the way.

  5. xohjoh2n says

    But in the UK at least, you can be fined for making way for emergency vehicles if you break a rule.

    Yeah, that’s more theoretical than anything else. I’ve never heard of it happening, but I frequently see drivers move into bus lanes to get out of the way, even jumping red lights so they can open up a gap. (Note: emergency vehicles also technically remain bound to the full rules of the road, but they’re never going to get prosecuted for jumping reds, which they do as a matter of course, either.)

    Basically you’re going to be fine, unless you do something dangerously and obnoxiously stupid while you’re at it.

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