Yield to the Ambulance

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Hardly a day goes by that the average citizen does not hear or see an Emergency Vehicle of some type.  With over 240 million 911 calls coming in to emergency dispatch, it is no wonder this has become so common to all of us.[1] Consequently, laws have been passed in an effort to ensure the safety of not only the emergency vehicle, but also other vehicles and passengers sharing the roads and highways.

Thousands of ambulances travel the roads and highways each year.  According to sources, over 250 ambulance crashes actually made the news in 2010, and it is likely there were more collisions that did not receive news coverage during that time.[2] There have been no reporting requirement mandates set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) regarding ambulance collisions.* In essence, there is no central recording system to identify that actual number of these types of collisions.


Rules to Follow


Although each State's laws may differ, there are basic guidelines that should be followed when yielding to an Emergency Vehicle.


  • Two to Four Lane Road[3]
    • Pull over to the right shoulder as soon as possible without endangering yourself or other drivers (always use your directional signal).
    • Even if it is four lane road, attempt to pull on to the right hand should after shifting to the right hand lane (it may appear that the ambulance can safely pass in the left lane, but appearances can be deceiving.  Many barriers may exist that the ambulance will have to maneuver though in order to continue its course).


  • Over Four Lane Roads and Highways
    • Using your directional signal, move as far over to the right lane as possible.  Some States do not require that vehicles stop or pull off the highway on to the shoulder.


The Police Notebook of Oklahoma recommends this simple technique to remember basic guidelines in yielding to an emergency vehicle.



  • S:  Stay Alert-watch for emergency vehicles including those that may be following behind the first one; always drive defensively by keeping the noise level down in order to hear any on-coming vehicle alerts.
  • I:  Investigate-keep an eye on your rear-view mirror, as well as in the front and sides of your vehicle; attempt to assess the speed of the on-coming emergency vehicle in order to respond accordingly.
  • R: React-calmly and quickly, scan your surroundings prior to pulling over; always use directional signals; and never slam on brakes or suddenly pull over.
  • E: Enter-always, make a visual sweep in every direction prior to attempting to merge back into traffic and always use directional signals in advance.
  • N: Never-pull over without enough room to remain safe; never, never, never attempt to out-run an emergency vehicle; never follow an emergency vehicle.


These are great guidelines to follow when faced with an on-coming emergency vehicle while in traffic.  Just remember to remain calm, stay alert, and react quickly but safely.  With thousands of emergency vehicles in operation today, there is always the chance that you will need to know these simple guidelines in order to react appropriately.


[1] http://www.911dispatch.com/info/fact_figures.html

[2] http://www.emsworld.com/article/10225399/ambulance-crash-roundup

* refers to (2) footnote citation

[3] http://www.carinsurance.org/driving-laws/

[4] http://www.ou.edu/oupd/emergv.htm

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