Should I pull over for ambulances on a divided highway with two lanes in each direction?
October 11, 2004 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Ambulance Etiquette: Divided highway, two lanes in each direction, pull over into shoulder and stop?

Of course I know to pull over on a two-lane road and let an ambulance pass. I do this if the lights are flashing, regardless of hearing a siren. But what if the ambulance has no siren on (only has the lights going) and is travelling at the speed limit on a divided highway with two lanes in each direction? Is it ok just to get into the right-hand lane and let the ambulance pass on the left? Seems more dangerous to have some people pull to the shoulder and then have to merge back into the road after a full stop.
posted by anathema to Law & Government (11 answers total)
If it's just the lights and not the siren, I'd think that as long as you give the ambulance a clear lane to pass, that should be okay.

If the siren is going, especially if the roads are crowded, then pulling over to the shoulder is a good idea. (Although, of course, Safety First. Always. If you can't get over, for whatever reason, then don't force the issue.)

The laws in your state (NH?) might cover this explicitly, but as a rule of thumb, that's what I've always followed.
posted by chicobangs at 3:54 PM on October 11, 2004

If we're talking etiquette and not law, the best action to take in any state is to pull over. 'sides, think of all the drivers you'll be setting a good example for...
posted by vers at 5:02 PM on October 11, 2004

I've been an EMT for 6 years, and have driven both ambulances and lifeguard trucks Code 3 on crowded roads, and really, it's almost always better if you pull over. If you're in the right lane on a 4 lane divided highway, it may look like the ambulance has plenty of room to get by you in the left lane, but (as was often the case on A1A in Florida, where I worked) there could easily be some spaced-out geriatric doing 20 under in the left lane totally oblivious to the approaching lights and siren, and the ambulance might need that extra room in the right lane to get by, or some kind of road debris, or a huge puddle, or any number of other hazards. The more room we were given by other motorists, the safer and smoother our trips were, always.
posted by saladin at 5:08 PM on October 11, 2004

Also, please forgive the bad grammar, one should never try to cook and answer questions simultaneously.
posted by saladin at 5:17 PM on October 11, 2004

Just to be clear, if the ambulance is flying down the highway, lights and siren going, no doubt I pull off to the shoulder asap. I'm more curious about a situation where there is no siren and the ambulance is not speeding. Does the ambulance driver have a different expectation? I agree completely that to pull over is generally better.
posted by anathema at 6:28 PM on October 11, 2004

Ontario law says you have to pull over and drive cautiously if the lights are on (siren doesn't matter), so you'll find all the drivers here do (In fact, most stop, even when it's not necessary). Same thing for police vehicles.

DUMB FACT: It's illegal to stop behind an ambulance that's taking on a stretcher if you're in a no stopping zone in Ontario. You are required, by law, to keep moving if it is in any way at all possible.

If there's no lights, the ambulance gets treated as a regular vehicle. If it were actually an emergency, the ambulance driver would remember damn fast to turn on the lights and siren. If it's not an emergency, who cares?

Of course, Ontario has some pretty stupid laws that look good on paper but don't work out in real life (and that stupid law was made just a short while ago).
posted by shepd at 1:33 AM on October 12, 2004

Err, what's wrong with the yield to the bus law, exactly? I've seen buses have to sit and wait for minutes because nobody is willing to be the person that lets the bus in front of them. With the yield law, you're not obligated to do so.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:23 AM on October 12, 2004

Honestly, ambulances rarely if ever break the speed limit - it just seems so because everyone else is slowing down and they are making a lot of noise. If they have their lights on, you can assume they're trying to get somewhere in a hurry.

Pull over to the shoulder if it's safe to do so - it's pretty well the law, and it's the right thing to do, too. If you don't do the expected thing, it's darn hard for the ambulance driver to predict *what* you're going to do, and that's not something she needs to be worrying about right then.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:56 AM on October 12, 2004

Interstate-type highway (i.e., limited-access, only way off and on is by ramps): move to right lane and continue travelling.

"Highway" which is just a road with a higher speed limit, but still has intersections: pull on to shoulder and stop.

This is what I do, which is not necessarily the correct answer.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:23 AM on October 12, 2004

>Err, what's wrong with the yield to the bus law, exactly?

Well, here we go:

In light traffic, the bus can easily escape the bus bay. So, in that case, no need for a law.

In heavy traffic, holding up traffic for the bus causes the lights behind you to end up with cars piling inside the intersection that were expecting to continue through. Now you've (temporarialy) blocked traffic in another direction, and perhaps, worse yet, there's a bus in that direction that needs to go, meaning the lights behind there have the same condition. This all leads to chaos.

If it's taking a long time for the bus to merge, that's because there's no room in traffic for it to do so safely. Making a law forcing drivers to slam their brakes in heavy traffic does no good deed for road safety, and furthermore, causes already terrible traffic to become rotten, further worsening the bus' time schedule.

I expect this law will be repealed after a short test time, just like the law requiring drivers to switch lanes to ensure they were at least 1 lane away from a stopped police car at all times possible. Considering Ontario is home to North America's busiest highway (The 401 has over 500,000 cars travelling on it per day), that law was stifling traffic. Bad traffic leads to more accidents, and blammo... the policeman has worse things to worry about than handing out another pointless 40 km/h over ticket (the 401 is famous for it's unreasonable speed limit -- in fact, it is so low, a ticket was once handed out by an officer to someone doing the speed limit for, in fact, doing the speed limit. You just can't win).

Well, that's just my take on it. Of course, Ontario is all about ensuring traffic is worse to increase the appearance of safety (for example: Littering Ontario with red light cameras, rather than adjusting the timing of lights to provide more "all red" intersection time, and letting a policeman make the right decision).

Really, people here know how to drive without having to make new laws to change their habits. If something is happening (busses unable to get out of their bays) it's not because of other drivers, it's because of poor design.
posted by shepd at 9:41 AM on October 12, 2004

For ambulances, my approach is to make sure that I give clear indication to the driver that I'm going to get out of the way. Usually on a divided highway that would mean slowing down, using the brake lights and turn signal to indicate my intentions to the the ambulance driver and everyone else. Then moving at least all the way over to the edge of the pavement and slowly on to the shoulder if that's going to help at all. I try not to make any sudden moves unless there's some reason to, so there's not often time to come to a full stop before the ambulance is past. So anyway, I think the important thing about the etiquette in this situation (and in driving in general) is to be aware of how you're perceived by the other people on the road.

people here know how to drive without having to make new laws to change their habits.

I find that people from Toronto have habits well-adapted to driving in Toronto, but many of them drive like total idiots when they find themselves in the unfamiliar situation of a two-lane highway with not much traffic. Speeding up to tailgate anyone who passes them is the offence (against decency) that I see most often. Usually I'm the one passing, but last night I was going slow, following at a good distance (10 secs) behind another car. This was late in the evening, far enough north of the city that there wasn't much traffic. Three times, I slowed down a bit in an appropriate place to let faster traffic past (in the same fashion, though with much less urgency, as I would for an ambulance.) Three times, the car that passed me stuck right on the bumper of the car ahead, eventually made it past, then was in turn tailgated for a few minutes until the car I'd been following eventually lost interest in chasing them.

But yeah, it seems like the things that make the most difference are those that are least susceptible to legislative solutions.
posted by sfenders at 1:54 PM on October 12, 2004

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