Trucks, Buses and Emergency Vehicles
Sharing the Road with Emergency Response Vehicles

Sharing the Road with Emergency Vehicles: Right-of-Way, Traffic Rules & Penalties

Updated Nov. 20, 2020

Motorists must exercise caution around emergency vehicle operators, as they are exempt from adhering to standard road rules when their sirens and lights are activated. This makes them incredibly unpredictable.

Emergency vehicles right-of-way

Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians must yield the right-of-way to any emergency vehicle using sirens or flashing lights. Emergency vehicles include ambulances, law enforcement vehicles, fire trucks and any other state or federal vehicle designed for a similar function to one of those listed here, that is properly equipped with red or blue flashing lights and an audible warning system.

Whenever you hear a horn, bell or siren warning or see flashing red or blue lights, you must clear a path for the approaching emergency vehicle and stop. Do so calmly, whilst following the procedure outlined below. Do not panic, stop suddenly or slam on the brakes.

  1. 1

    Reduce your speed.

  2. 2

    Determine from which direction the emergency vehicle is coming.

  3. 3

    Move your vehicle away from the approaching emergency vehicle, toward the side of the road and stop.

  4. 4

    If the emergency vehicle is directly behind your vehicle in heavy traffic, keep moving slowly until you have enough space to get out of the way.

Avoid blocking intersections

While you must move your vehicle out of the path of an emergency vehicle and stop as soon as possible, you must never stop partway through an intersection. This could turn your vehicle into an obstacle for the approaching emergency vehicle driver. If you are in an intersection when you become aware of the emergency vehicle, it is essential that you drive out of the intersection before pulling over.

Emergency vehicle drivers may use a loud-speaker to communicate with motorists who are blocking their path. Should this happen to you, remain calm and do your best to follow their instructions.

Conflicting signs and traffic signals

If a police officer or fire-fighter instructs you to do something that conflicts with existing signs, signals and road laws, you must obey them anyway. Instructions given by a fire-fighter or law enforcement officer may stand in opposition to the usual rules of the road, for your own safety and the safety of others.

Be aware that emergency vehicle drivers can legally:

  • Exceed the speed limit
  • Pass through red lights
  • Pass through yield and stop signs
  • Drive the wrong way up a one-way street
  • Make turns which would not be allowed under normal circumstances

Following an emergency vehicle

It is against the law to follow an emergency vehicle that has active sirens and flashing lights too closely. This law has been introduced in most states to prevent opportunistic drivers from using an emergency vehicle’s clear wake to get ahead of other traffic. The precise distance which must be maintained is different state by state, as are the fines and penalties you may incur by breaking this law.

In California, drivers must remain at least 300ft behind an emergency vehicle. However, in Mississippi and Florida, the minimum distance is 500ft. Always check your state driver’s handbook for details, to make sure you are following the right rules.

Approaching a stopped emergency vehicle

Many states have introduced what is often known as the “move over law”, to help protect emergency responders while they are parked and working by the roadside. The correct procedure for approaching an emergency vehicle that has stopped on or close to the roadway is different state-by-state, though two things are common everywhere. If an emergency vehicle is parked with lights flashing, other motorists must:

  • Move to a lane further away from the emergency vehicle, when the road has two or more lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction
  • Reduce speed. Particularly when changing lanes is not possible

Your driving manual may stipulate the speed at which you should approach and pass a stopped emergency vehicle if you cannot move over into a different lane; this information can likely be found in the chapter pertaining to sharing the road with emergency vehicles. Most state rules set the maximum passing speed at around 20mph when you must use a lane directly adjacent to a stopped emergency response vehicle. The speed you are asked to slow to will be determined by the original speed limit and width of the road.

For example, in Texas drivers must slow to a speed of not more than 20mph when the posted speed limit is over 25mph, or a speed less than 5mph when the posted speed limit is less under 25mph.

The only occasion when the “move over law” does not apply (if it is a legal requirement in your state), is if you are instructed to take a different action by a law enforcement officer at the scene.

Interfering with emergency responders

You can be arrested if you drive to the scene of an accident for sight-seeing purposes or behave in a way that may prevent an emergency response team from doing their job correctly. Casually observing the scene of an emergency may seem harmless but when many people do it simultaneously, traffic can get out of hand and emergency responders may be hindered or put at risk.

In Illinois and various other states, the use of cellphones and cameras on an accident scene is a crime. Consult your state driver’s handbook to make sure you know what is and is not allowed in such situations.

Would you pass a driving test today?

Find out with our free quiz!


Like the article? Give us 5 points!

Click a star to add your vote

5.0 out of 5 stars based on 6 votes.

Read next

Slow Moving Vehicles: How to Drive Around Them Safely
Trucks, Buses and Emergency Vehicles 4 of 4

Sharing the Road with Slow Moving Vehicles

Slow-moving vehicles are those designed to operate at a speed of 25 mph or less, such as farm vehicles, animal-drawn vehicles, road maintenance vehicles motorized construction equipment. By law, slow-moving vehicles must display an orange triangular emblem at their rear to warn road users approaching from behind of their low speed.

Sharing the Road with Trains
Trains & Railroad Crossings 1 of 2

Sharing the Road with Trains

Vehicle-train collisions are often catastrophic. Drivers must know the tremendous risk they subject themselves to when trying to beat a train to a crossing or drive around protective gates. Understand the risks and avoid injury at railway crossings.

Railroad Crossing Safety Rules
Trains & Railroad Crossings 2 of 2

Railroad Crossing Safety Rules

Crossing railway lines is incredibly dangerous, as the sheer size and weight of trains means that motorists will always come off worse in a vehicle-train collision. Do not take chances or engage in risky behavior around railway-highway intersections. In these situations, impatience or poor concentration could cost you your life – not to mention the lives of your passengers.

Vulnerable Road Users 4 of 7

Bicycle Safety Rules

As bicycles are legally defined as vehicles, bicyclists are subject to precisely the same rights and responsibility as car drivers. When riding a bicycle on roads you must obey all traffic laws, signs and signals, yield the right-of-way where appropriate and follow the same rules for indicating and making turns.

Vulnerable Road Users 5 of 7

Sharing the Road with Motorcycles

Motorcyclists using public roadways have the same rights and responsibilities as car drivers. As a car driver, you must be on the lookout for motorcyclists. Despite being subject to the same traffic laws, motorcycle riders are at far greater risk of injury while using a roadway than a person operating a car.

Vulnerable Road Users 6 of 7

Motorcycle Safety Rules

Motorcyclists must practice defensive driving, ensure their motorcycle meets safety standards and wear appropriate riding clothes to minimize their risk of injury on the roads. Data collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that motorcyclist deaths occurred 28 times more frequently than fatalities in other vehicles, in 2016.

Vulnerable Road Users 7 of 7

Animals on the Road

Drivers must keep a lookout for wild, domestic or farm animals crossing the roadway, particularly in rural areas. When a yellow, diamond-shaped animal warning sign is present, remain alert and drive with caution. Should you encounter a herd of animals crossing the road, stop your vehicle and allow them to cross. Only when the animals have completely cleared the highway should you proceed.

Trucks, Buses and Emergency Vehicles 1 of 4

Sharing the Road with Trucks

To share the road safely with large trucks, you must keep in mind that these vehicles are heavy, have a wider turning circle, longer stopping distances and bigger blind spots. Remember that large trucks are designed primarily to transport cargo. They are not as maneuverable as smaller passenger vehicles.

Trucks, Buses and Emergency Vehicles 2 of 4

Sharing the Road with Buses

The precise definition of a bus varies a little from state to state, though it is safe to assume that any vehicle used for passenger transportation which is designed to carry more than ten people qualifies. We will discuss the challenges you face when sharing the road with ordinary passenger buses and school buses.