ISSUE: What to Do When You’re in Traffic With an Emergency Vehicle

​​FACT: As safely as you can, make way for a first responder’s vehicle by either yielding the right-of-way when traveling, or moving to another lane or slowing down for a vehicle at a stop.

police car​​​There are a couple of different scenarios to think about when it comes to sharing the road with emergency vehicles: A first responder on the way to a stop and one already at a stop.

In 2017, police, fire and EMS in Virginia Beach responded to a total of 386,000 calls for service to include – a house on fire, a traffic crash or a medical emergency. But before emergency personnel can offer any assistance, they have to get where they’re going, and that means traffic.

Picture a scene that might be familiar: You’re cruising along in your car and suddenly you hear sirens. They’re not right behind you, but they’re getting closer every second. What should you do?

The full letter of the law is long-winded but it comes down to this: As quickly and safely as you can, pull over to the side of the road nearest to you and wait for the emergency vehicle to pass. 

The biggest safety concern reported by our first responders heading to a call: Drivers who hear the sirens and immediately slam on their brakes and come to a stop in the middle of the road. Please, don’t do this. Large vehicles such as a fire truck or an ambulance cannot stop on a dime. A stationary object in the middle of the road is dangerous for anyone, those in the stopped car and the first responders traveling behind them. 

Another scenario to think about: You are sitting at a red light and a first responder’s vehicle comes up behind you. First things first, don’t panic! They’re not going to force anyone into traffic, especially if the light is red. 

Fortunately, Fire and Rescue vehicles and about 75 percent of the traffic lights in Virginia Beach are outfitted with a device called an Opticom. The responder’s vehicle sends a signal to the traffic light, and within a few seconds it will turn green, stopping traffic in the other directions and giving them the right of way. If you’re in front of an emergency vehicle when this happens, move through the intersection and pull over to let them pass. 

What to do if you’re traveling and come across an emergency vehicle already at a stop? The law is equally clear on this as well – move over to another lane, away from the emergency vehicle, if it is safe to do so. If it’s a two-lane road or it’s not possible to move over a lane, slow down! A reduced speed means a shorter braking distance and longer reaction time to avoid any obstacles that may appear.

According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 129 law enforcement professionals were killed in the line of duty in 2017. Of those, 10 were killed after being struck by a vehicle. Moving over is an easy, simple act that could potentially save the life of a first responder.

To read the full text of the laws about yielding the right-of-way to an emergency vehicle, and Virginia’s “Move Over” law, please see below. For additional information about the first responders in Virginia Beach, please visit VBgov.com/police, VBgov.com/fire and VBgov.com/ems.​

Yielding right-of-way to emergency vehicles

§ 46.2-829. Approach of law-enforcement or fire-fighting vehicles, rescue vehicles, or ambulances; violation as failure to yield right-of-way.

Upon the approach of any emergency vehicle as defined in § 46.2-920 giving audible signal by siren, exhaust whistle, or air horn designed to give automatically intermittent signals, and displaying a flashing, blinking, or alternating emergency light or lights as provided in §§ 46.2-1022 through 46.2-1024, the driver of every other vehicle shall, as quickly as traffic and other highway conditions permit, drive to the nearest edge of the roadway, clear of any intersection of highways, and stop and remain there, unless otherwise directed by a law-enforcement officer, until the emergency vehicle has passed. 

This provision shall not relieve the driver of any such vehicle to which the right-of-way is to be yielded of the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway, nor shall it protect the driver of any such vehicle from the consequences of an arbitrary exercise of such right-of-way.

Violation of this section shall constitute failure to yield the right-of-way; however, any violation of this section that involves overtaking or passing a moving emergency vehicle giving an audible signal and displaying activated warning lights as provided for in this section shall constitute reckless driving, punishable as provided in § 46.2-868. Code 1950, § 46-241; 1958, c. 541, § 46.1-225; 1960, c. 570; 1966, cc. 613, 699; 1968, c. 89; 1976, c. 754; 1984, c. 539; 1985, c. 462; 1989, c. 727; 1993, c. 579.​

Virginia “Move Over” Law

§ 46.2-921.1. Drivers to yield right-of-way or reduce speed when approaching stationary emergency vehicles on highways; penalties.

A. The driver of any motor vehicle, upon approaching a stationary vehicle that is displaying a flashing, blinking, or alternating blue, red, or amber light or lights as provided in § 46.2-1022, 46.2-1023, or 46.2-1024 or subdivision A 1 or A 2 of § 46.2-1025 shall (i) on a highway having at least four lanes, at least two of which are intended for traffic proceeding as the approaching vehicle, proceed with caution and, if reasonable, with due regard for safety and traffic conditions, yield the right-of-way by making a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the stationary vehicle or (ii) if changing lanes would be unreasonable or unsafe, proceed with due caution and maintain a safe speed for highway conditions.

B. A violation of any provision of this section shall be punishable as a traffic infraction, except that a second or subsequent violation of any provision of this section, when such violation involved a vehicle with flashing, blinking, or alternating blue or red lights, shall be punishable as a Class 1 misdemeanor.

C. If the violation resulted in damage to property of another person, the court may, in addition, order the suspension of the driver's privilege to operate a motor vehicle for not more than one year. If the violation resulted in injury to another person, the court may, in addition to any other penalty imposed, order the suspension of the driver's privilege to operate a motor vehicle for not more than two years. If the violation resulted in the death of another person, the court may, in addition to any other penalty imposed, order the suspension of the driver's privilege to operate a motor vehicle for two years.

D. The provisions of this section shall not apply in highway work zones as defined in § 46.2-878.1.

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