The Missouri State Highway Patrol is reminding motorists of the importance of yielding to emergency vehicles on the roadways. Click to hear KMZU’s Janet Adkinson talk to Sergeant Brent Bernhardt:
According to Bernhardt, state law requires drivers to pull as far to the right as possible and come to a complete stop when emergency vehicles are passing. Drivers are also asked to slow down and change lanes if possible when law enforcement or MoDOT crews are stopped on the side of the highway.
Living in a small town, I often get asked, “Where were the police going the other night when they went by my house?” Or, “Do you know what call the fire department was on when they were headed out of town?” When outside our cars, we are often drawn to the sound of sirens and attuned to the lights of emergency vehicles as they pass by. Why is it that when some people get behind the wheel of their vehicle, there is a shift of senses?
Inattention continues to be the leading cause of traffic crashes in Missouri. Whether it is other passengers in the vehicle, eating, applying make-up, reading, or using some electronic device, all of these distractions turns driving into a part-time occupation. Technology, specifically, has advanced in recent years making cars quieter and the ride nicer; however, it also has blurred the lines from home and office to the car. Access to voice and data in our vehicles, while convenient, has been shown to have a negative impact while driving. Along with crashes, inattention has increased a trend of not seeing or hearing emergency vehicles with their lights and sirens activated. Section 304.022 RSMo. requires a motorist to pull as far as possible to the right of the traveled portion of the highway and to stop when an emergency vehicle approaches displaying emergency equipment. The motorist must remain stopped until the emergency vehicle has passed, or a police officer directs them otherwise.
When yielding to an emergency vehicle, consider a few tips to stay safe. First, when pulling to the far right, as the law requires, remember what type of roadway you are on. If you are on a two-lane highway, slow your vehicle to a safe speed, signal your intentions, and gradually pull to the right. Extra caution also should be used when pulling to the right on an unpaved shoulder. Braking hard and maintaining control of your vehicle on a gravel shoulder at high speeds is difficult. On a divided highway, when the emergency vehicle is traveling the same direction, you must also yield to the right. If you are traveling in the left lane, overtaking another vehicle, and you hear the siren or see the lights, don’t panic. Change lanes when it can be done safely and then move to the right. Finally, when attempting to enter the roadway again, always look for other emergency vehicles that might be traveling behind the initial responder. Using your signal, gradually merge back into traffic when it can be done safely.
Traveling in a city or an area with many intersecting roadways presents other challenges. The sound of a siren reflecting off buildings sometimes makes it difficult to know exactly where it is coming from. Slow down and be mindful of intersections while looking for the emergency lights. Never try to outrun an emergency vehicle at an intersection or any location. Sometimes, due to traffic conditions, or at congested intersections, emergency vehicles may have to travel in opposing lanes. This is another reason why it is imperative drivers from each direction yield to the right, when it can be done in a safe manner.
A discussion of yielding to emergency vehicles would not be complete without mentioning what to do when approaching a stationary emergency vehicle working alongside our highways. The now 10-year old law requires motorists to approach cautiously when an emergency vehicle is stopped ahead with its flashing lights activated. Motorists must change lanes away from the emergency vehicle if they are on a multi-lane highway and can do so safely. If a driver can’t change lanes safely, or they are on a two-lane highway, they must slow down while maintaining a safe speed as not to impede other traffic. A new law, that went into effect this past August, now includes Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) vehicles, displaying flashing amber or white lights, stopped roadside, within the “Move Over” law.
Safe movement of emergency and other vehicles is one of mutual responsibility. Laws requiring actions of motorists also hold drivers of emergency vehicles to certain standards. Phrases such as “slowing down as necessary for safe operation” and “not endangering life or property” are just part of the standards set by Missouri law. By remaining vigilant while driving, consistently checking your mirrors, and reducing the distractions inside the vehicle, you not only increase the chances of your safe arrival, but also those who depend on you to move over in order for them to reach their destination safely. When you are behind the wheel, please remember: Driving is a full-time job.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol encourages motorist to protect themselves from all types of hazardous drivers by making sure everyone in the vehicle is properly restrained in a seat belt or child restraint. Click It 4 Life!