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Many rules of the road come as second nature to drivers because we use them every day, but it isn’t necessarily as common to see emergency vehicles coming down the road towards you or coming up behind you. When this does happen, you might take a specific action because that’s what you’ve always done but is it the right thing to do? Here’s what you need to know when emergency vehicles are on the road.

Are the sirens on and lights flashing?

Sometimes emergency response vehicles are on the road without lights and sirens, so the rules for emergency vehicles don’t always apply. The rules for clearing the road only apply when the vehicles have their lights and sirens on.

What about the different types of roads?

Not all roads have two lanes where the speed limit is 60 km/hour. Some roads have four lanes, and a median, so do you need to take the same action? For the different types of roads there are different rules for oncoming emergency vehicles, and here’s how they work.

  • Highways with a Median and One-Way Roads
    Oftentimes emergency vehicles are blocked on roads with medians, or one-directional traffic because vehicles don’t get out of the way in the right manner. All 400 series highways in Ontario have a shoulder on the outer portion of the road. If an emergency vehicle is coming your way you should pull to the right lane, slow down and stop if it’s safe to do so. You should not – ever – block the shoulder. This part of the road was put there on purpose so that first responders have a clear path to get through traffic. The same applies to one-way streets: make sure you pull to the right but do not block any shoulders.
  • Two-Way Streets without a Median
    This is the most common type of street found in cities across Ontario. If you’re on one of these roads and an emergency vehicle is approaching with lights and sirens then you should slow down, pull to the right and stop when it’s safe to do so. The middle of the road needs to be cleared so the vehicle can get through traffic. Only when the emergency vehicle has passed should you start moving again.

What about turning left in front of an emergency vehicle?

If you’re in the lane to turn left, and you see oncoming flashing lights, you need to abort the turn and wait until the vehicle has cleared the intersection. If you turn in front of the vehicle you may obstruct them from getting to the scene they need to get to.

What if I’m in an intersection?

If this happens, you need to clear the intersection and pull over to the side of the road as soon as it is safe to do so. Stopping in the middle of an intersection can cause an additional accident or delay the vehicle from getting to where it needs to be. It’s very important to make sure all paths are clear to get through as soon as possible, when safe to do so.

The best thing to do when you encounter an oncoming emergency vehicle is to slow down and pull to the right so as to ensure a clear path for the vehicle and then wait until it has passed before moving again.

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