Can I ask you to do something? It is really painless, will only take up a little time from you, is the law, and may actually save your life?

This is a visualation node, so close your eyes with me (unless you are driving, in which case I'm not sure why you are noding, but don't close your eyes). Since you aren't driving (because your eyes are closed), picture yourself doing that. Anywhere. Your favorite city, country road, etc. Now look in your rearview mirror. See that GIGANTIC RED (or yellow) FIRE TRUCK WITH ALL THE LIGHTS AND SIRENS IN THE WORLD coming up behind you? It poses a dilemma. (See Diagram 1)

Diagram 1 (Direction of Travel ->):
      FIRE TRUCK        YOU        BURNING HOUSE

What should you do? Very simple. Pull over! Move out of the way of the big hurtling piece of metal and let them get where they need to go. Why is this so important? Because I have been to plenty of calls where it is your house burning, your child not breathing, you trapped in the car accident, and heard, "What took you so long to get here?"

Next time, before you ask that question, think about whether you pulled over for that Fire truck, or ambulance, or police officer, or Volunteer Firefighter with the rotating red light. And hope that when it is your emergency, that others do the same.

It also is a good idea so you don't piss off the guys in the fire truck

... or don't!

Depending on the situation, pulling over can be one of the worst things you can do. Why? Because most people have a tendency to slow down before they do any kind of maneuver with their cars. Because of this, usually sensible way of driving, a car that tries to pull over when there is limited space on the street actually slows the emergency vehicle down before getting out of the way.

If you see the emergency vehicle coming and there is plenty of room to your right (or left if you are in one of those countries): pull over. If not: keep moving until you find a place where you can get out of the way fast, or the guy behind you (who probably deals with this kind of situation every day) finds it for you.

The ambulance drivers and policemen I have talked to all agree that the thing that slows them down the most is people who panic when they see an emergency vehicle behind them: They slow down and try to stop instead of moving along.

Clarification: I'm not saying you should break the law. I'm just pointing out that there are more than one way of "getting out of the way" and that slowing down to pull over might not be the best one...

Under the road traffic laws of Belgium (and, I suspect, many other countries - /msg me and I'll list them), you don't have to worry about whether you feel like doing this - any road user is under a legal obligation to get out of the way of any vehicle from the emergency services if its flashing blue lights are on and it is sounding its siren. Failure to give way or pull over or at the very least stay out of the way constitutes a serious—licence-losing—offence (infraction grave). Lights or siren alone may be considered as advisory; in practice flashing lights alone are only used on rare occasions, e.g. by a police escort for an abnormal load.

Disturbingly, the most common reaction I see on the road to the appearance of emergency vehicles is panic. An ambulance, fire truck or police vehicle is coming with its sirens going and what do you do? Your reaction needs to be calculated. Of course this needs to be true of driving in general but calculation and thought end up in the back seat for so many people.

Attentiveness in driving seems to be on the decline and has been for some time. The personal vehicle has become more of a second home that takes you to different places than anything else. Do you remain aware of other drivers and other possibilities on the road? Are you prepared to react in the event a car pulls out of a side road in front of you or inexplicably runs a red light? Do you even notice the other cars and the habits of their drivers? If not you may be one of those who responds with panic or uncertainty when emergency vehicles approach.

The simple answer to the approach of emergency vehicles is "I pull over," but this isn't always the correct reaction. You are required to get out of the way so that the emergency vehicle can continue on towards the emergency in question. If you are generally preoccupied with your elaborate car stereo system, chatting away on your cell phone and preparing microwave dinners in your dashboard microwave you may not even notice the approach of said emergency vehicles until they are on top of you. Without any time to prepare, think and calculate your reaction, you panic. Often panic will cause a new emergency situation requiring additional emergency vehicles. I once watched as a car containing a young man who was listening to his stereo so loud that his windows were shaking with every thump of the bass that he didn't notice the fire truck until it blared its horn from directly behind him. The young man was thrown into a panic, quickly trying to get out of the way and scraped his car along the side of a flower delivery van in the next lane.

If you are stopped at an intersection with an emergency vehicle coming from behind and cannot pull over anywhere safely while allowing the emergency vehicle enough room you are required to go through the red light. Of course, you must take into account the inattentiveness of other drivers and make sure crossing traffic has stopped against the green light. Many people aren't aware of this and will sit in front of the red light and wait for it to turn even if there are no cars to speak of coming from the other direction. The panicky freeze at the red light is especially bad if the emergency vehicle in question is a police cruiser. You will not be cited for going through the red light to allow the police cruiser to pass, provided its sirens are going. You may be cited for failing to get out of the way, but if the emergency is a true emergency he won't have time to stop and write a citation. Do everything possible to give the emergency vehicle safe passage.

Another element to be aware of comes with the appearance of an ambulance. Depending on whether it is on its way to an emergency or bringing someone with life threatening injuries to the hospital, it may only have lights and not sirens. If you keep yourself aware of everything going on around you while driving, flashing lights alone should not be a problem. I've seen straw chewing dirt farmers shrugging and saying, "gosh-darned thing didn't have no sirens." In addition there are times when other, non-emergency vehicles may be following the ambulance. Grant them passage as well. Sometimes these may be morons trying to slipstream their way through traffic by riding behind the ambulance, but not always.

About ten years ago a close friend of mine's father suffered a heart attack. His mother rode in the ambulance with his father but my friend and his three brothers were told to follow in their car. It did not look good and there was concern that dad wouldn't make it to the hospital. With their emergency flashers on, my friend and his brothers followed directly behind the ambulance. People got out of the way of the ambulance, but some people were borderline vindictive in their efforts to cut off the brothers. Once the ambulance passed they pulled out, trying to jam themselves between the ambulance and the brothers. Here were four young men going through the emotional trauma of knowing they were likely to lose their father at any moment and they were dealing with people on the road who weren't thinking. A car with its flashers on following closely behind an ambulance rushing through traffic towards the hospital? There may be a very good reason for it. Their dad made it to the hospital. He was brought in and immediately received medical attention, but several minutes later he passed on. His wife was at his bedside when he departed, but his four sons arrived too late. They arrived fifteen minutes after their father passed on because drivers on the road saw them as people who needed to be "taught a lesson." No one had the right to get ahead of these people, especially after their daily routine had been disrupted by that damned ambulance. They made a point to cut off, blare their horns and curse at the four brothers.

Not all vehicles responding to an emergency have lights and sirens. Sometimes there is more to the story. Some people think of emergency vehicles as a nuisance, but more often than not, they are responding to a legitimate emergency. It may be an inconvenience, but if you consider the possible reasons why this emergency vehicle is rushing through traffic your reaction could save a life... or cost one...

Be careful out there.

A police van is responding to backup a burglary call. He comes up and is hindered by a car who isn't especially keen to stop, or even slow down and give the right of way. And, in his van, he's not got the horsepower to really zip past him on this rural road.

He's right on the centre line now, the dark hedgerows whipping past as he tries to judge whether he can safely overtake, but even a gentle corner like this has pretty restricted vision ahead.

Coming the other way, a goth chick sees the flashing blue lights, and stops to provide a gap for the policeman to finally get past. So she stops and the policeman starts to overtake at last. Just as I come round the corner to be confronted by an oncoming police van and a stopped car, which I hit.

Now my arms are cut to hell, my car's front is smashed in, my insurance will go up, and someone else has a banged up car. Luckily, I'm the most injured, the goth lass was untouched.

All because someone wouldn't get out of the way of a policeman rushing to help someone just like them, this chain of events started unwinding.

Thank goodness I didn't brake and avoid into the police van, though.

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