Emergency Vehicles and Intersections: Educating the Public

This column is a component of VFIS' "Operation Safe Arrival" initiative, aimed at heightening safety awareness and reducing the frequency and severity of accidents involving emergency vehicles.

How many times have you had a close call at an intersection with a civilian vehicle - despite the fact that you were using your lights and siren? Probably more often than you would care to admit. The fact is that when an emergency vehicle is involved in an intersection accident with a member of the motoring public, it may mean the motorist was confused about what to do. Getting the message across to the public about the proper way to react when an emergency vehicle approaches is an important element in reducing needless accidents.

Below is a list of some of the key messages a good public education program should convey. You may want to add others that reflect special circumstances in your community.

The tools for conveying these messages are endless. For example, print and electronic media can be used to your advantage. Send your local newspaper a press release outlining your campaign to educate the public. Work with your cable service or television and radio stations to create 30 or 60-second public service announcements for local air. Or offer to make an appearance on your government or public access cable channels to discuss these issues.

You may already be doing presentations to various groups in your community. This would be a good time to pass out a list of Dos and Don'ts. Similarly, discuss with high schools and private driving schools in your community about the possibility of lecturing to their driver education classes. And, of course, any time your organization appears at public gatherings or events - or has an open house - be sure to offer an appropriate handout.

Effective public education is a matter of repeating a series of simple messages in a variety of ways. In doing so, you'll go a long way toward maintaining the safety of your members and your community.

At the approach of an emergency vehicle...


  • Know your state laws when it comes to yielding to an emergency vehicle.
  • Remain calm and don't panic.
  • Move your vehicle to the right, if at all possible. Then, come to a complete stop, and wait. Remember, "Move to the right for sirens and lights."
  • Stay put at an intersection stop sign or traffic light, if you cannot pull to the right. Don't try to go through the intersection.
  • Pull over to the nearest side of the road if you are on a one-way road or divided highway - but before you do, make sure the shoulder is safe.
  • Before you move on, make sure another emergency vehicle isn't coming along after the first one.


  • Stop in the middle of an intersection. Proceed through it, then pull over to the right.
  • Stop in the middle of a lane when there is room to pull to the right.
  • Pull to the left in the center yellow lane or left turn lane.
  • Race ahead to get through a green light or turn before emergency vehicle gets there.
  • Race after an emergency vehicle to get through a traffic light.
  • Make a left turn quickly into a driveway or side street.
  • Disregard the emergency vehicle and continue to travel.
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