Tips for avoiding a crash with an emergency vehicle

When a person sees those lights flashing in their rearview mirror, what should they do? Some people feel a moment of panic and forget what to do next. Although an accident with an emergency vehicle can happen even when a driver does everything right, drivers can reduce the risk of an accident if they know the rules of sharing the road with emergency vehicles. Here are a few tips for staying safe around emergency vehicles:

  • Pull over when you see lights or hear sirens. Most drivers know that you pull off to the right when you see the flashing lights and stop until the emergency vehicle is clear. In Tennessee, an emergency vehicle with sirens and lights on has the legal right-of-way. Do so carefully, however, and make sure there are no other vehicles, pedestrians or cyclists in your path. Use your blinker or hazard lights.
  • Pull back into traffic slowly. After you have pulled over for an emergency vehicle, be careful pulling back into traffic. You never know how the drivers around you reacted to the situation and may be speeding past. In addition, where one emergency vehicle goes, more may follow. Make sure there are no others coming your way.
  • Give them room. Never drive closely behind an emergency vehicle with its lights flashing. They can be unpredictable, stopping and turning without warning. The general recommendation is to stay at least 500 feet back.
  • The Move Over law. Fewer people may know that most states, including Tennessee have a "Move Over" law. When you see an emergency vehicle pulled over on the side of the road with lights flashing, you should try to move over one lane and slow down, if possible, to give the vehicle and people on the side of the road space. This also includes tow trucks or highway maintenance vehicles. Violations can result in criminal charges.
  • Check every intersection. We should always check intersections as we approach them, but sometimes we become complacent and blow through our green light without a sideways glance. Remember that emergency vehicles could be coming through, with or without a red light. You must yield the right of way. Even if they are coming toward you, wait for them to pass, as they may be turning in front of you.

Even if you follow all of these tips and obey every law, an emergency vehicle can still come from nowhere and crash into you. Don’t assume you have no recourse if this happens. You may have a negligence claim against the driver.

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