What Should I Do If I See an Emergency Vehicle?

Emergency vehicles respond to thousands of calls every year in the state of Virginia. While ambulances, fire trucks and police cars are responding to urgent calls, they’re using the roads and highways.  As such, you’re likely to encounter an emergency vehicle on the road almost any time you travel or even run daily errands.

These vehicles need to get where they’re going quick. That’s why every state, including Virginia, has mandatory “move-over” laws for citizen drivers. These traffic laws are designed to keep drivers from impeding emergency vehicles and reduce accidents.

If you don’t understand these laws, it can be stressful encountering these loud, flashing and fast cars on the road. Thankfully, the laws themselves are fairly clear and easy to follow. As long as you pay attention to the road and follow best practices, you can steer clear of traffic violations.

Virginia’s “Move Over” Laws

In the state of Virginia, all drivers are required to yield to emergency vehicles. This law states that emergency vehicles always have the right-of-way when their sirens, exhaust whistle or air horn is active.

This means if an emergency vehicle, like a fire truck, ambulance or police car is driving behind you, and their lights are flashing, you need to pull over. These flashing lights and loud sounds are the universal sign that the vehicle is responding to an emergency and needs to reach their destination quickly.

In the event that an emergency vehicle is pulled over and displaying flashing lights, Virginia law states that all drivers must move to a further lane. If you can’t safely switch lanes, then you must slow down and drive with caution to avoid an accident.

Best Practices When Nearing an Emergency Vehicle on the Road

When an emergency vehicle is approaching you on the road, or you’re approaching a parked emergency vehicle, you need to follow the law and practice caution. Here are a few best practices to remember in this situation.

What to Do

  • Pull to the nearest edge of the roadway and come to a complete stop to let the emergency vehicle pass.
  • Be alert if there is another emergency vehicle coming. Watch for them as you come to your stop.
  • Avoid distractions so you can hear and notice emergency vehicles coming. This means keeping your music volume low and not using your phone.
  • Use your turn signal when coming to a stop. This action tells the emergency vehicles that you see them and are responding to them.

What Not to Do

  • Block an intersection. This could create more issues and lead to an accident.
  • Follow an emergency vehicle closer than 500 feet. This is against the law and can have serious consequences.
  • Stop on a bridge or crest of a hill. Instead of stopping here, activate your turn signal and proceed forward until you can safely pull over.
  • Slam on your brakes. You’ll only put yourself and others in danger, especially if a larger vehicle like a truck or van is behind you. These large cars need more room to stop their momentum.

Consequences of Not “Moving Over”

In the state of Virginia, there are various consequences to not yielding to emergency vehicles on the road.

  • Failing to yield to an emergency vehicle with their lights and sirens on counts as a failure to yield the right-of-way. If you actively pass or overtake the emergency vehicle, this action counts as reckless driving.
  • If you do not move to another lane or carefully drive past a parked emergency vehicle with their lights flashing, it counts as a traffic infraction. That means you could have to pay a fine and have demerit points added to your driving record. If you violate this law any other time afterwards, it counts as a Class 1 misdemeanor, which has serious consequences.

Contact an Attorney

If you pay attention to the road and respect the emergency vehicles, you will most likely not break Virginia’s “move over” laws. If you are pulled over for violating these laws, you might not know what your next steps should be.

We recommend contacting an experienced traffic attorney in Richmond to hear your story and advise you on what to do next. Even if you don’t feel your case can go to court, it’s still a good idea to receive legal counsel whenever faced with a serious charge.

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