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Emergency Vehicles (blue & twos)


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Bob Jackson explains how best to help drivers of emergency service vehicles.

There you are driving along, warm and cosy in your pride and joy, not a care in the world, when all of a sudden you are aware of a cacophony of noise and bright flashing lights. Too many ecstasy tablets or have the grandchildren started playing with their X-box? Well neither actually – you have just encountered an emergency vehicle travelling to an incident, with its sirens blaring and blue lights flashing.

Knee ***** Reaction

The first reaction, on many occasions, to this is panic, where’s it coming from? the side? the rear? towards me? What do I do? Where do I go? Does it want to get past? Does it want to turn into the next side-road?

Most drivers will undoubtedly do their best to assist emergency vehicles, but because they haven’t been given much advice or practice at what to do in these circumstances, end up unintentionally hindering the progress of these vehicles.

What to Look For

Currently, there are 10 groups of vehicles that are permitted to carry and use blue lights, they are:

Police (Civil & Military)

Fire (Civil & Military)

Ambulance (Civil Military and Voluntary)

Mines Rescue

Mountain Rescue

Bomb Disposal

National Blood Service

Human Tissue for Transplant

H.M. Coastguard

Life Boat launching vehicles

This list may be increased in the near future by HM Customs and Excise, even so you need to look for vehicles of any colour, shape or size, ranging from motor cycles to large goods vehicles.

Sound Bites

So, having established what to look for, the next problem is to work out where it’s coming from. Modern buildings can make this difficult, as sound bounces off them and may appear to be coming from a different direction. A system of directional sirens is being tested but, until perfected and in general use, there are some actions that you can take to assist. Turn down your radio for instance, and if possible wind down the windows.

Light Bites

If you can see the blue lights flashing, it will be fairly close, which makes your choice of action something to be dealt with relatively quickly, but it is better to make a good decision slowly than a bad decision quickly.

Make a Difference

Having established that it’s coming your way and will want to pass, what do you do next? Plain and simple, find somewhere to pull out of the way; sounds easy doesn’t it? Here are some things to consider. The first available space may not be the best one to use. Don’t pull into a pedestrian crossing area - especially if it has a central reservation; don’t pull into a junction unless you are sure that the emergency vehicle does not want to turn into it.

When you do pull in ensure that you pull as far to the side (left or right) as possible, not just nose in, which leaves the back sticking out and you can’t move even if you want to.

When deciding where to pull in, it may be prudent to consider, that if you are travelling along a dual carriageway or multi-lane road, that pulling to the right may be the best option. This can of course, be on a single carriageway, but make sure you stay safe. On motorways do not pull on to the hard shoulder, there’s a good chance that’s where the emergency vehicle will be.

Make sure the driver of the emergency vehicle is aware of what you are trying to do, signal your intentions, use the indicators or even a hand signal (but beware of upsetting the emergency driver by giving unintentional offensive gestures) and leave the rest to them.

Don’t Lose the Plot

So what happens if you can’t find anywhere to pull in. Try to stay calm, keep looking, and keep going. Just pulling up will not help, but don’t worry, eventually you’ll find somewhere. When you do, follow the guidelines above and the emergency service driver will appreciate it (although it may not be obvious at the time).

Keep it Legal

It is important at this point to stress, that you should not be bullied into doing something that you do not want to do. For example, speed up, drive up a kerb, cross a controlled junction unsafely etc. Bear in mind that if you collide with something or someone you may have to explain your actions, possibly to a court and getting out of the way of an emergency vehicle does not constitute a defence for unsafe or dangerous driving - you are responsible for your own actions! It is also important to remember that any exemptions in law afforded to emergency service drivers do not apply to you.

More of the Same?

Having identified what is approaching and where it’s coming from, and taken suitable action next? Thinking that the danger has now passed, we tend to drop our guard, relax and attempt to get back into the traffic flow and continue our journey. This is a potentially dangerous point, because another emergency vehicle may be following the first one, or at a junction or roundabout other emergency vehicles or services may be approaching from a different direction.

It is known that the sound of a siren appears to stay in the ears for some time after the vehicle has passed and, therefore, other sirens merge into this and are not as easily recognised as coming from another vehicle.

So make sure that you check all round before proceeding.

This advice can best be explained as:

Don’t panic

Look and listen

Identify where it’s coming from

Don’t be bullied

Find somewhere to pull in safely

Pull in as far as you can

Indicate your intentions

Leave the rest to the emergency service driver

Keep looking and listening

Stay safe

Some further tips and information that may be useful:

When you park don’t park on or at corners.

Fire engines for instance require large turning circles.

Don’t park in school or factory entrances.

Emergency vehicles may need to gain access.

Don’t park in bus lanes.

Emergency services can use these as running lanes.

Don’t park opposite other vehicles in narrow roads/streets.

Police cars may get through, ambulances may struggle to get through; fire engine may find it impossible.

If you require any further information, help or guidance please contact your local road safety officer or

Bob Jackson was, until July last year, the Occupational Road Risk & Road Safety Officer for the West Midlands Fire Service, following 14 years as the head of driver training for that authority.

Bob is currently and has been since 1997 the chair of the National Blue Light Users Conference, which brings together all blue light users to discuss emergency services driving/instructor standards and management.

The foregoing article is based upon the video/leaflet entitled “Sharing the roads with Emergency vehicles”.

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