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Emergency Vehicle Response and Intersections can be Dangerous Combination

Posted on 1st Jan 2020

Driving an emergency vehicle while responding with the emergency lights and sirens
activated is a high risk operation. Emergency vehicles include ambulances, fire trucks, police
cars, personal vehicles (POVs) and any other vehicle used for emergency response that uses
emergency lights and sirens. The emergency vehicle operator should be trained to the
minimum level of the widely recognized course, Emergency Vehicle Operations Course (EVOC).
Additional driving courses are available such as Coaching the Emergency Vehicle Operator
(CEVO) is distributed by the National Safety Council.

While the available training covers a wide swath of emergency vehicle operations, I
want to discuss traveling through intersections that are controlled with STOP signs or traffic
control lights. There is no argument that emergency vehicles are permitted by most if not all
state laws to proceed through a red light or stop sign. However, none of the laws permit racing
through the intersection without due regard for the safety of others. Meaning it is the
obligation of the emergency vehicle operator to ensure that crossing traffic in or approaching
an intersection from the right or left has fully yielded to your request to go through the
intersection against a red light or STOP sign. The use of emergency vehicle lights and sirens is a
request from you the emergency vehicle driver to proceed through a controlled intersection, it
is NOT a guarantee everyone will adhere to your request and stop as you think they should do.

It has been my experience over the course of 38 years of active service regularly driving
emergency vehicles, that if the motoring public is alerted to your presence while responding
with your lights and sirens activated, MOST drivers will yield to you the right-of-way. Today’s
cars and trucks are marketed as having quiet interior passenger compartments with drastic
reduction of exterior road noise. Emergency vehicle operators must understand that many
drivers will simply not hear you approaching. Added caution and slower emergency response
speeds must be used in an effort to prevent a collision.

Here’s what is known from testing and analysis of intersectional crashes involving
emergency vehicles. Sixty percent (60%) of all emergency vehicle crashes occur at intersections.
When approaching intersections, understand that the effectiveness of your siren in terms of

alerting the motorists converging from the left and the right is about one-third of what a driver
directly in front of you hears. Simply stated, motorists approaching intersections from your left
and right are significantly less likely to hear your sirens until they are directly in front of your
emergency vehicle. Most drivers on the road will yield the right-of-way to an emergency vehicle
if a series of three things takes place;

1. The driver realizes the emergency vehicle is there.
2. The driver has sufficient time to make a decision as to what to do.
3. The driver has sufficient time and space to carry out their decision.

So, what does this mean for the emergency vehicle driver?

As an individual that has been trained to operate and emergency vehicle it is your
responsibility to navigate that ambulance, fire truck or police car in a safe manner. Slow your
response speed to traffic conditions. Always use both emergency lights and sirens together. At
controlled intersections, especially those that are blind intersections such as urban
environments with buildings on the corners, bring your vehicle to a complete stop. Slowly enter
the intersection after looking to the right and left ensuring the traffic has fully yielded to your
emergency vehicle. Treat multi-lane intersections as if each lane must be slowly cleared before
entering that lane of travel.

Each one of us as emergency services providers want to get to the scene of an
emergency as soon as possible to help the ill or injured. But we must do so in a manner that
does not jeopardize the motoring public. Slow your emergency response speed, constantly
survey the field of traffic around you. At controlled intersections when faced with a red-light or
STOP sign bring your vehicle to a complete stop to safely ensure the safe passage of all vehicles
through the intersection. Getting to the scene of an emergency is critical but it must be done
safely and without putting the motoring public in danger. Remember, not everyone will see or
hear your emergency lights and sirens. Give drivers the benefit of realizing your emergency
vehicle is there, sufficient time to make a decision as to what to do and sufficient time and
space to carry out their decision.