Responding to Stationary Emergency Vehicles on the Road

emergency vehicle The Move Over law was enacted across Canadian provinces in order to better protect emergency workers after they pull over on the shoulder of a road in response to a traffic collision or related emergency. Once emergency vehicles are stationary and the workers are outside their vehicles (this includes police, fire fighters, EMTs, paramedics, and tow truck drivers in Alberta), they are dangerously exposed to the traffic still driving by the scene.

Sadly, many emergency workers in these situations have been injured or killed after being struck by passing vehicles. You can be fined upwards of $400 for breaking this law, but the true cost is to the emergency workers themselves.

What to Do

If you encounter emergency vehicles pulled over on the side of the road in the direction you’re traveling, you have two options:

  1. Change lanes. If you are driving on a multi-lane road and can change lanes safely without cutting off another driver, do so. This leaves a comfortable space of one lane for emergency workers to be able to exit their vehicles and attend to the emergency at hand.
  2. Go slow. If the road is single-lane or you cannot safely change lanes, slow down when you pass by the emergency vehicles and keep an eye out especially for workers exiting their vehicles. This greatly increases the safety of the emergency workers involved. In Alberta, tow trucks with their lights flashing are included in this law, and the maximum speed for passing stationary emergency vehicles or tow trucks is set at 60km/hr. In Ontario, no maximum speed is specified, but drivers must slow down and proceed with caution.

What Not To Do

There are some things (other than driving too fast) that you shouldn’t do if you encounter a stationary emergency vehicle, as they increase the danger for yourself and the surrounding traffic.

  1. Do not jam on the brakes or immediately force your way into the far lane. Hitting the brakes increases the chances of causing a rear-end collision, and cutting off another driver creates unneeded danger in an already chaotic situation. Instead, practice awareness so you are not caught off guard. When you see emergency vehicles up ahead, slow down at a reasonable pace and change lanes if possible.
  2. Do not move into the far lane and then slow to a snail’s pace if it is not necessary. Drivers traveling in the far lane sometimes slow way down, perhaps because they are unsure of what to do, and often to get a look at the accident on the side of the road. The far lane of traffic will naturally slow when vehicles merge into it, but too much braking can cause rear-end collisions and traffic jams. Continue at a steady pace, pay attention to the road ahead of you, and let drivers into your lane.
  3. Do not slow down if emergency vehicles are affecting traffic going in the opposite direction. Sometimes drivers slow down even if the stationary vehicles are not obstructing their direction of traffic. Again, this can be because they are unsure of what to do, or because they want to get a better look at the accident. It causes great confusion for surrounding vehicles and can cause needless collisions and traffic jams.

The next time you encounter stationary emergency vehicles, don’t panic, slow down, and help prevent those emergency workers who save others’ lives from having to fear for their own!

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