What Do Red and Blue Mean to You?
Taryn Stones, Staff Assistant, Directorate of General Safety
Meet Joe. Joe has been driving for over 20 years and has never once received a ticket. One day, he is driving on the highway, and as he comes around a bend, his attention is grabbed by the flashes of red and blue lights on the side of the road ahead of him. He knows that there must be at least two police cruisers ahead because the lights are so bright and as he checks his speedometer, he realizes that he should slow down. Because Joe is such a good driver, he reduces his speed significantly and cautiously begins to pass the two stationary police cruisers. To his amazement, he finds himself being flagged down immediately by one of the police officers. Not knowing why he has been pulled over, Joe opens his window, and the police officer informs him that Ontario law states that when approaching a stationary emergency vehicle with its lights flashing, drivers must slow down, proceed with caution and, if it can be done safely, change lanes to put one empty lane between themselves and the stopped emergency vehicle.
Though this amendment to Ontario's Highway Traffic Act came into effect in April 2003, many drivers, like Joe, remain unaware of its existence. Police officers face enormous risk when conducting routine traffic stops, as do other emergency workers when responding to accidents and incidents near roadways. Even when pulled safely onto the shoulder of the road, police and emergency responders are mere feet from the nearest lane, where cars can fly by at high speeds.
According to an OPP news release, between November 2007 and late 2008, six OPP officers were involved in incidents while pulled off the road with their vehicle lights flashing. In three of the cases, motorists hit the police cruiser, and in the other three, they hit the officers themselves.
The implementation of the legislation was originally sparked by an incident in 2000, where two OPP officers were in injured and one was killed when a tractor trailer crashed into their police cruisers, which were pulled over on the shoulder of a highway. Police officers and emergency responders risk their lives every day to help ensure the safety of the public, and this traffic law is in place to help ensure their safety.
Province Required Actions Penalty
Alberta: Slow down to 60 km/h or less, proceed with care Two demerit points, fines double for speeding
Saskatchewan: Slow down to 60 km/h or less Three demerit points, fines starting at $140
Manitoba: Slow down, proceed 0with caution, move into traffic lane furthest from emergency vehicle if it is safe to do so Two demerit points, suspended license, fine up to $2,000
Prince Edward Island: Slow down, move into another lane if it is safe to do so Fines up to $200
The penalty in Ontario for breaking this law for the first time is a fine of up to $2,000 and a loss of three demerit points. Subsequent offences within five years include fines of up to $4,000, imprisonment, and a suspended driver's license.
Although not every province or territory in Canada has a specific law for approaching stationary emergency vehicles with their lights flashing, Alberta, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan all have laws similar to that of Ontario's.
Provinces and territories that do not have specific laws for approaching stopped emergency vehicles still have penalties for failing to yield to emergency vehicles. In British Columbia, not yielding can lead to three demerit points and a fine of $109. Similarly, drivers in Newfoundland and Labrador can also face two demerit points and fines of up to $900 when failing to yield to emergency vehicles.
It is your responsibility as a driver to know the laws and rules of the road that apply in your province or territory. You are also responsible to know the rules wherever you travel. If you do not know the regulations for your province or territory, you can contact your local police station for more information. By following the traffic laws, you help to protect police officers, emergency responders, other motorists, and yourself.