Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Emergency Vehicles

This isn't about airplanes, but it's about following rules, ceding the right of way to emergency traffic, and not being a complete idiot. There must be some connection.

I was driving in the United States a while ago, on a road with several lanes of traffic. I heard emergency sirens and could see the flashing lights well behind me, so I braked, signalled right and tried to pull over. The stream of traffic to my right continued unabated, oblivious to the fact that they were preventing me from getting out of the way of an emergency vehicle. Ambulances and firetrucks were threading their way through traffic like idiots in Camaros. No one else appeared to be making any attempt to pull off to the side and stop. I was utterly bewildered. I honked at the unyielding drivers, but short of ramming someone, I wasn't getting out of my lane. I incredulously asked my passengers, resident in the US, "don't you have to give way to emergency vehicles here?"

"Yeah," they said, "theoretically."

Am I that naive? Since then, back in Canada, I've been paying attention. And when the sirens wail, everyone pulls over and stops. No one enters an intersection, even if the light is green, so that the cars on the red light side that are blocking the firetrucks can pull forward to let them through. After the emergency vehicles pass, you're on your own trying to get back into the lane you wanted, but no one stops you getting out of the way of an ambulance or firetruck.

Is the place I live an aberration? Was I in a particularly obnoxious US city? Do you stop for sirens? You should. It's the law, and you don't know for whom the siren wails. It could be someone you know who has a serious emergency and can't afford a single second delay for the paramedics to arrive.

This has been a public service rant, and an excuse for me to type my favourite word, firetruck.

21 comments:

Lord Hutton said...

Just shows yanks are crap and that the colonies that stuck with the motherland are better behaved ;-)
*ducks

sweavo said...

It's not you, it's Americans. Here we don't pull over 'cos it's the law, we pull over cos we want that person to be saved, that car crash to get attended, or that house to be put out.

At least, I like to think so.

sweavo said...

here being the U of K of course

Douglas said...

I think you were in a crap city... or perhaps my experience was an exception. In any case, on a recent trip to NYC I noted the exact opposite - the drivers couldn't do enough to get out of the way. In fact, the NYC drivers seemed even more caring than Canadians. Maybe it's a NYC thing or a 9/11 thing or combination thereof.

aviadisto said...

I live in California, and I'm just as outraged as you whenever this happens. Perhaps it's because I was raised in Europe.

There are so many things that piss me off about US driving that I better not even get started about it.

Stu said...

The UK is getting worse. At least twice I've pulled over for an emergency vehicle only to have it nearly smash into the person behind me who decides to overtake because I'm going too slow (ie. stopped or nearly stopped)

Garrett said...

I would take a stab at what part of the country you are in, but thats not polite.

As Douglas mentions, NYC drivers are very good at getting out of the way. Note that this doesn't mean "stop". Stopping is about the least helpful thing you can do for an emergency vehicle in heavy traffic. Moving over and getting out of their way as expeditiously as possible is key, and that is what the law requires. There is no legal requirement to stop, but you are required to get out of the way, at least per NYS V&T code.

But yeah, as an American I would wholeheartedly agree that people are so indifferent because of their attitude, not because they are ignorant or unaware of the law. These attitudes are more prevalent in some areas than others...cough cough socal cough.

Kris Johnson said...

In the Atlanta area, people usually move toward the side of the road and slow down a bit, but I'm usually the only one stopped. I am amazed that other people don't seem to care.

On the other hand, a little sprinkling of rain will cause everybody to slow down to 5 MPH for its duration. I don't understand that one.

Oshawapilot said...

This is one of those things that irks me as well... I think that the big problem is that alot of people are just too freaking oblivious to notice the firetruck, ambulance, or whatnot behind them to begin with.

These are the same people that drive along on the highway at 20 Kph below the limit in the middle of three lanes and don't seem to have any clue whatsoever that there are 50 cars lined up behind them, and traffic if flying past them on two sides going 40 Kph faster then them.

Ahh, the joys of living near Toronto...clueless drivers are our specialty.

I still think that emergency vehicles should have the equipment and authority to ram any vehicle out of their way that fails to yield. If after lights, sirens, and in the case of fire trucks, airhorns, you are still too retarted, ignorant, or downright stupid to *get the hell out of the way*, you deserve to have your car smucked into.

We should all be thankfull that getting a pilots licence is much more difficult then the joke that our vehicle licencing system is, otherwise the skies would be a nightmare.

Traytable said...

Argh this is one of MY biggest pet peeves for driving, too!!

I always pull over and slow down (as someone said stopping can complicate things) but no-one else seems to...

Once some jerk honked the horn at me because I waited at a green light (I could see several ambulances coming and it was a MAJOR intersection) Of course the jerk had his stereo on so loud he hadn't heard them...

I have noticed here the trend is towards now having an 'advance team' of paramedics in a 4WD vehicle, that can get to the scene if the ambulance gets stuck in traffic - these guys will go onto the other side of the road (if safe), over curbs, up the verge...

it's great to watch them roar past some idiot in a Beamer who hasn't moved, and cover the shiny car with dust and dirt.... hehehehe.....

Deranged Doctor said...

Serve him right, then, and anyone with the stereo that loud deserves everything they get.
I'm in Canada, though, and I can't imagine anyone not getting out of the way for an emergency vehicle. That's why they're called emergency, they actually need to get somewhere fast.

aasmodeus said...

philadelphia here, lots of people do pull over, lots don't. however, i don't recall it being the *law*, just part of what you learn.

Jim Howard said...

It's certainly the law here in Texas. And Texans will pull over as soon as they can.

I used to live in Japan. There nobody pays any attention to emergency vehicles.

Traytable said...

I think in some states of Australia, they are now introducing the ability for emergency crews to note the rego of cars who obstruct (e.g. don't even TRY to move) and the driver may then be fined or lose demerit points on the license... I believe they want to make the fines quite hefty - good on 'em i say!!!

Capt. Wilko said...

pwBoston drivers are probably the worst in the world. Actually, they're lunatics. I was therefore surprised at how vigilent they are when emergency vehicles pop up in their rear-view. Of course, once the ambulance has passed them, it's a mad rush to get in right behind it to cut through traffic faster. Nice.
Hey, great blog, I really enjoy reading it!

Sam said...

I dunno that I'd chock this up to American obnoxiousness (although, I know, it's tempting!)...morso due to the fact that when Americans drive, they tend to do everything else BUT drive. Between the radio, the cell phone, and guggling the Big Slurp, many people aren't monitoring the space around them nearly as well as they should.

Re: Regional differences...in MN, *everybody* pulled over. In SoCal, I noticed that many didn't. Here in the Portland area, they're usually pretty good about it.

silver horde said...

In San Diego CA everyone pulls over!

Tom said...

I live in the maritimes (new brunswick, canada) and people here are generally pretty good about it, but in Quebec, and definitely in parts of Nova Scotia (esp. halifax), it's just as bad as what you described in the US. I wouldn't blame it on dumb americans or obnoxious american cities (way to jump on the anti-american bandwagon), but rather, any large highway/intersection in north america. I have no love for the US but I've seen drivers just as bad and irresponsible in canada and europe. It's just easy (and hip!) to blame the US.

Anonymous said...

In my experience I've found that americans pull over and stop for emergency vehicles. And yes, you do need to STOP. You don't know where that vehicle needs to go. What if the emergency vehicle needs to turn at the next intersection, but they can't because traffic in the other direction isn't stopping, or even, if traffic in the same direction won't stop. By pulling to the right hand side of the road and STOPPING, we allow the emergency vehicle to get to the scene faster and to potentially save a life. The less traffic they need to dodge, the better. Every second is precious in saving a life, and we all need to be a little less vain, and to think about someone else. Who cares if we're a few minutes late for work or a movie, because tommorrw is another day. Let's give someone else another day and pull over and STOP for emergency vehicles, you never know who's life you could be saving!

Anonymous said...

I work for a fire department and part time for an ambulance service in NY and respond numerous times a day lights and sirens. I can tell you from years of experience that most people do TRY to move over for you.

Many people are incorrect in this thread, you do in fact have to PULL TO THE RIGHT AND STOP YOUR VEHICLE. It is the LAW in NYS. What many people don't understand is when you are approaching a vehicle and passing it while it is still moving that is very unnerving for emergency drivers. The best thing for us is if you stop COMPLETELY and allow us to pass. That way we can concentrate on traffic ahead and don't have to worry what you are doing while we are driving past.

Also, you may be interested to know that the majority of Emergency medical services in the united states now use a program called emegency medical dispatch which assigns priorities to calls based on a series of questions designed to determined how serious the callers problems are. The dispatchers only assign lights and siren responses to the most serious calls. In addition, most ambulances go lights and sirens to the hospital less than 5% of the time... so yes... when you see an ambulance running lights and sirens, it is, most likely a VERY serious emergency.

Just a Public Service Announcement from a nice guy who wants to get the correct information out.

aquabot said...
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