Six tips for safely letting emergency vehicles pass

How to clear space for the emergency services at junctions, on motorways and single-carriage roads

By Matt Allan
Wednesday, 23rd June 2021, 12:00 pm
How to safely let emergency vehicles pass
How to safely let emergency vehicles pass

All drivers are bound to encounter an emergency vehicle on call at some point in their motoring life.

The sound of sirens and sight of flashing blue lights can come as a shock as an ambulance, fire engine or police car suddenly appears and most people’s first reaction is to try and leap out of the way as quickly as possible.

While it’s important not to hold up blue light vehicles unnecessarily, it’s also important not to do anything that puts yourself, the crews or other road users in danger.

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It's important to stay calm and pull out of the way if it is safe to do so

To help drivers understand the best course of action, road safety organisation Gem Motoring Assist has developed a series of tips covering different common scenarios.

GEM chief executive Neil Worth said: “Every driver wants to help and do the right thing, but the approach of a blue light vehicle can take them by surprise. We hope that our tips will minimise confusion and reduce risk.”

Don’t panic

The first thing is not to panic and just come to a sudden stop. Doing so can actually make matters worse for the emergency vehicle.

Emergency vehicles often travel in groups

Take stock of your surroundings, try to work out which way the vehicle is heading and pull out of their way if it is safe to do so.

It’s worth bearing in mind that often more than one emergency vehicle will be heading to the same scene, so be on the lookout for multiple vehicles heading in the same direction.

At traffic lights

Emergency vehicles with their lights and sirens active are allowed to pass through a red light, however, regular drivers are not, even if it’s to make way for an ambulance or fire engine.

An emergency crew won’t want you to go through a red traffic light. So don’t break the law or take any risks by moving past the light. If you’re first in the queue at a red light, stay where you are and leave the ambulance to find its way around you.

Roundabouts and junctions

If you're approaching a roundabout or a junction and you see an emergency vehicle, look at its lane position, as this should let you know where it wants you to go. If you’re already at the junction, stop, be patient and wait for it to pass. Remember, there may be more than one emergency vehicle approaching the junction, so check before moving off.

Solid white lines

Solid white lines on a road indicate that it is not safe to overtake and that applies to blue light vehicles as much as any other.

On a road with a solid white line system, an emergency vehicle will probably switch off its siren as it follows you. In these circumstances keep going – at the speed limit if it’s safe – until you’re clear of the solid white lines. When the siren goes on again, that’s your cue to let the ambulance go past.

Motorways and dual carriageways

On motorways and dual carriageways, move to the left to allow an ambulance to pass in the outside lane if it’s clear. In slow and stationary traffic, emergency vehicles usually use the motorway hard shoulder, so you should only go onto the hard shoulder if you have an emergency of your own.

If there’s no hard shoulder, make way for emergency vehicles by creating an “emergency corridor” - this is where vehicles in adjoining lanes move to opposite sides of their lanes to create a gap between them. When you’ve let an emergency vehicle through, stay where you are, as other vehicles are likely to be coming through.

Smart motorways

On a smart motorway, one or more lanes may be closed because of an incident ahead – you’ll know because of red X signs above the carriageway. Emergency vehicles will use these lanes if they can. Keep out of these red X lanes. If no lanes appear to be closed, be prepared to help create the emergency corridor.