A few weeks ago, I was driving down Highway 15 in Cloverdale when I saw an ambulance quickly approaching on the other side of the road.
Most drivers pulled over to the curb on their right and stopped. A motorcyclist, on the other hand, pulled over to the divider on the left and stopped.
I cannot remember if the ambulance had trouble getting through, but it got me thinking. What exactly are we supposed to do?
I know the key is to get out of the way of emergency vehicles, but I often see drivers stop exactly where they are.
Instead of guessing the right answer, I asked the experts: B.C. Emergency Health Services paramedics Jasprit Khandal and Brian Twaites.
They both said drivers fail to pull over for emergency vehicles on a daily basis.
“People are almost caught like a deer in the headlights. They see an ambulance, they hear the horn and they don’t know what to do,” Khandal said. “So they just stopped where they are.
“Now, that can be really dangerous for our paramedics.”
So, what should you do?
How a driver should respond depends on what type of road they are on, divided or undivided. On an undivided road, Khandal said, drivers going both directions must pull over to the right and stop when they see or hear an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens.
Drivers should never slam their breaks but rather always use signal lights to let the emergency vehicle know that they see it coming before pulling over to the curb. Once an emergency vehicle has passed, drivers should then check to ensure others aren’t following behind. This also applies to pedestrians and cyclists.
The one thing you should not do, Khandal added, is stop in the middle of an intersection or turn in front of an emergency vehicle.
“If an emergency vehicle is approaching from behind, finish safely passing through the intersection, put your signal on and then pull over,” she said.
On a divided road or one-way street, drivers can pull over to the closest curb, either the left or the right, and stop. This helps create a clear centre lane for the emergency vehicle to drive through,
“But when you’re in doubt, the best thing is just to pull over to the right,” Khandal said.
Twaites wants to remind drivers always to be aware of their surroundings and use their mirrors when on the road.
“Scan your mirrors on a regular basis because you may see an ambulance or another emergency vehicle a few blocks behind you with its lights activated before you can hear the siren, which would give you a lot of time to move over.”
First responders only turn on lights and sirens when someone’s health and safety are at risk and every second counts, said Twaites.
But what does it mean when an ambulance suddenly turns them off?
It likely a good thing, Twaites said.
“That call that they were going to is either a not a higher priority call any longer and it’s been downgraded, or the vehicle that’s responding to that call has actually been cancelled.”
– With files from Lauren Collins