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What Should I Do if I See an Emergency Vehicle?

April 12, 2021

Ambulance on the road

Every driver has come upon an emergency vehicle sounding its siren or flashing its lights. Sometimes, the vehicle is stationary on the side of the highway. Other times, it may be coming from behind or approaching from the other direction. Regardless of where the emergency vehicle is located, a Virginia driver must either move over a lane on the highway or stop on the side of the road to let the driver through.

Virginia laws regarding emergency vehicles are designed to protect first responders, tow truck drivers, and other emergency and maintenance workers. Any vehicle that flashes a red, blue, or amber light or that sounds a siren or air horn is subject to emergency vehicle laws. A motorist’s action upon seeing an emergency vehicle will vary depending on where the vehicle is located, the type of roadway, and whether the emergency vehicle is stationary or moving.

Stationary Emergency Vehicles on Highways

It is common to see police, highway patrol, or state trooper vehicles stopped on a highway’s berm. They may be giving the motorist a ticket, helping with car trouble, or assisting in a car accident. Other workers may also be stopped on or near the berm of a highway. Tow trucks, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) vehicles, and motorist assistance vans and trucks use highways frequently as well. No matter the type of vehicle, Virginia drives must move over if there are red, blue, and amber flashing lights.

Virginia’s Move Over law applies to highways with at least four lanes and where there are at least two lanes in the driver’s direction. The law requires a motorist who sees a stationary emergency or maintenance vehicle on the highway to move over into a lane away from the stopped vehicle if safe to do so. If it is unsafe or unreasonable to move over a lane, a motorist should proceed with caution and maintain a safe speed for highway conditions.

Moving Emergency Vehicles on Highways

If a police car, fire truck, or ambulance approaches from behind on a highway with two or more lanes in the same direction, a motorist should stay to the right to let the vehicle pass safely. Sometimes, the vehicle will be in the right lane already as they prepare to exit or reach an accident. In those cases, drivers should move to the left lane as soon as possible. If it is safe, drivers should use turn signals to pull over to the berm well ahead of the emergency vehicle.

Stationary Emergency Vehicles on Non-Highways

It is always best to move over for stopped emergency or maintenance vehicles on the side of a non-highway road if one is able to safely do so. Sometimes, on a two-lane road, there is no room to move over safely. In those cases, slow down and proceed with caution. Police will often direct traffic when an emergency or maintenance vehicle is blocking the road.

Moving Emergency Vehicles on Non-Highways

When an emergency vehicle approaches from behind or from the opposite direction on a two-lane road, it is important to not panic. It can be nerve-wracking when an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens blaring appears suddenly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) advises motorists to do the following:

  • Stay Alert: Keep the radio and other noise in the car at a low level so that a siren is audible. Always watch for pedestrians and bicyclists when preparing to pull over.
  • Investigate: Check rearview and side mirrors to locate the emergency vehicle and estimate its speed.
  • Be Calm: React quickly but calmly. Scan all directions before pulling over slowly and when it is clear to do so. Do not slam on the brakes; brake gradually to maintain control of the car. Use a turn signal to alert the emergency vehicle and other drivers.
  • Reenter Slowly: There is often more than one emergency vehicle. Wait for all of them to pass before slowly reentering the roadway while using a turn signal.
  • Maintain Safety: Never pull over if it is not safe to do so. Instead, wait until it is safe and use a turn signal to alert the emergency vehicle. Never follow or try to outrun an emergency vehicle.

Important Safety Tips

Motorists should remember the following safety tips when seeing emergency vehicles:

  • Never slam on the brakes in the middle of the road, no matter how quickly the emergency vehicle approaches.
  • Pull over to the very side of the road, clear of intersections, pedestrians, and bicyclists.
  • Remain stopped with the foot on the brake.
  • Do not stop on a blind curve, the crest of a hill, or a bridge.
  • Stay at least 500 feet behind a moving emergency vehicle.
  • Do not pass a moving emergency vehicle unless directed to do so by an authority.

Do I Need to Stop for an Emergency Vehicle at an Intersection?

A motorist should not stop in the middle of an intersection for an emergency vehicle. An emergency vehicle does not expect anyone to stop for them in an intersection. A driver should continue through the intersection and quickly move over to let the responder pass.

In Virginia Beach, fire and rescue vehicles and nearly 75 percent of traffic lights have an Opticom device installed, according to the Virginia Beach government website. This device enables a first responder’s vehicle to send a signal to a traffic light, which will turn green after a few seconds, stop traffic in the other direction, and give the emergency responder the right-of-way.

What if an Emergency Vehicle Caused My Accident?

Despite how careful emergency vehicle drivers are when responding to a call, accidents do happen. Speeding can result in serious or minor accidents involving motorists. The NHTSA reports that thousands of emergency response vehicles, including ambulances, fire trucks, and police cars, are involved in accidents each year. Some even result in fatalities.

A car accident lawyer can advise on how to bring a lawsuit against a driver and the municipality or private company that owns the emergency vehicle. A motorist might be able to recover damages when an emergency response vehicle is at fault.

What if I Violate the Move Over Law?

In Virginia, a first violation of the Move Over law is treated as a simple traffic infraction. Subsequent violations are Class 1 misdemeanors, punishable by jail time of up to 12 months and a fine of up to $2,500.

If the law violation results in property damage, there could be a license suspension of up to one year. If failure to obey the Move Over law results in injury or death, the violator may lose their license for up to two years.

What if I am Injured by Someone Who Violated the Move Over Law?

Emergency and maintenance workers do lose their lives or are seriously injured each year by drivers who ignore or otherwise disobey the Move Over Law in Virginia. Anyone who is injured while performing their emergency response should contact a lawyer. There are legal avenues to help recover damages when the other driver is at fault.

Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers Advocate for Victims of Emergency Responder Accidents

Anyone involved in an accident that was caused by an emergency response vehicle or a negligent driver has the right to recover damages under the law. If you were injured by a negligent motorist, a Virginia Beach car accident lawyer can help. At East Coast Trial Lawyers, we protect the rights of collision victims. Call us at 757-352-2237 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk, Virginia, as well as North Carolina and nationwide.

Areas We Serve

Our law firm proudly serves clients injured anywhere in Virginia or North Carolina on personal injury claims, including cases with traumatic brain injury, spinal and neck injury, wrongful death, and more serious injuries. As Virginia Beach personal injury attorneys with many years experience, our team of lawyers will be ready to fight for you. If you were injured on the job, our Virginia Beach Workers Compensation lawyers are ready to serve you.

Call 757-352-2237 or fill out the online contact form for a free consultation about your personal injury, workers compensation, or other attorney services. Our firm adopts a team approach to every case, so while one primary lawyer will be assigned to your case, you have the benefit of an experienced team of lawyers, all working on your side. We are located in Virginia Beach, VA, and serve clients who were injured anywhere in Virginia or North Carolina.

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