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Why do drivers fail to pull to the right for emergency vehicles?

Patrick Gannon

A contributor wanted to know the answer to this question about Wilmington-area drivers. There would be no confusion if they’d just remember this:

See the light. Pull to the right.

The seven-word slogan, posted outside the Wilmington Fire Department headquarters on Market Street, encourages area motorists to clear the way for emergency vehicles.

But apparently, that concept isn’t easily grasped around here, even though it’s the law.

A couple of years ago, the fire department mounted cameras in its vehicles to record actions of motorists traveling ahead of fire trucks. It’s obvious on those videos, Wilmington Fire Engineer Greg Fix said, that many people don’t get out of the way and don’t know what to do when an emergency vehicle enters their rear-view mirror.

Fix described NASCAR wannabes who draft off fire trucks even when they’re on their way to an emergency, with lights and siren on.

“As soon as we go by, boom, they’re right behind us,” he said. “Sometimes they’re so close I can’t even see them in my side-view mirrors.”

Most drivers don’t intentionally get in the way but instead are listening to music, chatting on cell phones or are otherwise distracted. Others just don’t know what they should do when they encounter a siren on the road, Fix said.

According to N.C. General Statute 20-157, when an emergency vehicle with sirens and lights on approaches, drivers ahead should “immediately drive … to a position as near as possible and parallel to the right-hand edge or curb, clear of any intersection … and shall stop and remain in such position” until the vehicle passes.

Violations, by the way, are Class 2 misdemeanors.

It’s also against the law to drive within one block of a fire truck responding to an alarm in a city, or within 400 feet of a fire truck responding to a call outside the limits of a city or town.

Here are some tips:

Move carefully into the right traveling lane or onto the right shoulder.

Eliminate jerky or rash movements, such as sudden braking or swerving, jumping curbs or turning the wrong way down a one-way street.

Don’t tailgate emergency vehicles, even when the sirens and lights aren’t on.

Make eye contact with the driver at intersections so he knows you’re aware of him.

If everyone else is in one lane, don’t get into the other. Allow the emergency vehicle to use it.

Where there’s one emergency vehicle, another might be nearby. Be alert for a second or third vehicle.

Avoid distractions.

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2 Responses to “ Why do drivers fail to pull to the right for emergency vehicles?”

  1. On May 18, 2010 at 7:09 pm Roger Brown wrote:

    Back in the mid ’60s, I joined the county volunteer fire department, the fire and law inforcement had red lights. Therefore you had to pull over to the side of the road, because you did not know if it was fire or police car. In the ’80s the law enforcement changed to blue lights everything changed, and there were more cars on the road then. There are more than 20-40 times more cars now in 2010 then there was 40 years ago. So red lights are not as important as it was back then.

  2. On May 19, 2010 at 9:26 pm guest wrote:

    Sometimes with all the traffic, it’s impossible to move out of the way. I’m sure that has to be frustrating to all of the emergency people who are responding to whatever the problem is. Up North, on the major roads, there was an emergency lane only for emergency vehicles responding to an emergency. If you were caught driving in that lane, you had a big fine to pay. Maybe Wilmington should consider one of those.

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