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Dave Hardin

Public Information Officer


I was driving on one of the county’s major four-lane roads last week when an ambulance approached an intersection with lights and sirens fully flashing. It was approaching a red light and I remember thinking, “I hope this goes smoothly”.

The ambulance had to pause for several seconds in the middle of the intersection to be sure those with the green light were stopping. I hoped those few seconds wouldn’t make a difference in someone’s life. Do you know what to do in a similar situation?

This issue is addressed in North Carolina General Statute 20-157(a). It states that whenever any fire, ambulance or rescue vehicle "giving warning signal by appropriate light and by audible sirens or exhaust whistle, audible under normal conditions from a distance not less than 1000 feet, the driver of every other vehicle shall immediately drive the same to a position as near as possible and parallel to the right hand edge or curb, clear of any intersection of streets or highways", then stop and remain in place until the emergency vehicle has passed or the driver is directed to move by a police or traffic officer. This applies in all cases except for vehicles traveling in the opposite direction on a four lane road with a divided median.

You may also not realize that you cannot park your vehicle within 100 feet of any vehicle giving emergency assistance. Hopefully, you are aware that it's unlawful to chase any vehicle responding to a fire alarm, which could be an ambulance, police or sheriff's cruiser, or fire truck.

The law also covers what you must do if you pass an emergency vehicle stopped by the side of the road. When an authorized emergency vehicle is parked or standing within 12 feet of a roadway and giving a warning signal by the appropriate light, the driver of every other approaching vehicle, as soon as it's safe and as long as they are not directed otherwise by an officer, must either 1) move his or her vehicle into a lane that is not the lane nearest the parked or standing emergency vehicle, and continue traveling in that lane until safely clear of the emergency vehicle or 2) in the case of a road with only one lane running in the same direction, slow the vehicle, maintaining safe speed for conditions, and operate the vehicle at a safe speed until you have passed the emergency vehicle.

County EMS officials tell me there are some other common mistakes drivers make, perhaps thinking they're doing the right thing. One is to pull over on a bridge, in a blind curve or at the top of a hill. This puts the emergency vehicle in the position of having to move to the left at a blind spot. It's better to clear the hill or blind curve before you move to the right. Also, on multi-lane roads with a turn lane in the middle, people will commonly move left into the turn lane. The ambulance driver than can't be sure if the other driver is actually planning to turn or just getting out of the way. Remember, ambulances and fire trucks are heavier than standard passenger vehicles and, thus, harder to maneuver.

I hope this information helps you react correctly if an emergency vehicle approaches you in the future.